For DC, Shutdown Silver Lining
DC gains budget autonomy in shutdown
Published: Friday, October 18, 2013
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013 02:10
Although Congress ended the federal government shutdown Wednesday evening, damage from lost revenue may be irreversible for the District of Columbia — a reality that influenced Congress’ decision to grant D.C. temporary budget autonomy.
According to Mayor Vincent Gray’s Senior Communications Manager Doxie McCoy, the economy of Washington, D.C., whose budget is funded by local taxpayer funds but controlled by the federal government, was substantially affected. The D.C. metropolitan area, which includes D.C., Maryland and Virginia, lost $217 million, or 17.6 percent of the region’s economy, each day of the 16-day shutdown from lost or deferred federal and contractor wages. The District also lost $6 million each week in tax revenue. Hotel revenue was down by $2 million from October 2012.
Because Wednesday evening’s deal only extended the debt ceiling to Feb. 7 and temporarily funded the federal government until Jan. 15, congressional leaders struck a deal with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) that granted the District government temporary budget autonomy until Sept. 30, 2014. This signifies unprecedented autonomy for D.C., allowing it to stay open and fund local services even if the federal government shuts down again in January.
“A boomerang solution putting D.C. back in the federal government’s fiscal mess in January was beyond unacceptable,” Norton said in a statement. “This authority to spend our local funds for the full fiscal year, although the federal government is open only through Jan. 15, 2014, is a historic first.”
Government professor Mark Rom emphasized the importance of this increase in autonomy, a step that District leaders have been seeking for the last few years.
“Traditionally, the Congress has held the District’s reins tight, even regarding how D.C. could spend its own money,” Rom said. “Gaining the authority to fund programs with the District’s own money, as it sees fit, is a pretty big step toward ‘taxation with representation.’”
During the shutdown, Gray was able to continue funding District operations by declaring all employees as “essential” and tapping into the District’s $144 million contingency fund in an unprecedented move. This allowed general services, such as garbage collection and the Metro, to continue running, but Gray reported that the fund was only enough to last through the end of October.
“This is uncharted territory for us,” Gray said during the press conference. “We don’t want the story to become that we did something that was inappropriate.”
Georgetown University College Democrats President Trevor Tezel (SFS ’15) criticized Republican tactics, which he blamed for the shutdown.
“All the Republicans have accomplished has been to shut down the government and rattle the financial markets in order to score political points with their constituents,” Tezel said. “It’s relieving that a deal has been struck, but we cannot continue to govern from crisis to crisis. Hopefully, this signals to the Republican Party that they cannot let the fringe elements in their caucus dictate policy in the future.”
Georgetown University College Republicans Communications Manager Tim Rosenberger (COL ’16), however, praised Republican leaders for compromising by sacrificing their ultimate goals.
“We are so proud to have leaders like Speaker Boehner and Leader McConnell in our party,” Rosenberger said. “It takes the kind of selfless leadership they embodied in this latest round of negotiations to govern effectively. Republicans got very little in this deal, and thus, understandably, many were opposed. That being said, many put returning the government to functioning ahead of other concerns and reached an effective compromise.”
Overall, Tezel and Rosenberger agreed that increased budget autonomy for D.C. is an important step in the right direction.
“A year of budget autonomy will be very healthy for the District, and we applaud Norton for her hard work on behalf of her constituents,” Rosenberger said.
Tezel added that he hoped this would set a new precedent for District rights.
“In terms of budget autonomy, this not only makes practical sense under a federal government that is being funded through a continuing resolution, it makes sense to give this right to D.C. residents as well,” Tezel said. “Congress should have no role in determining the budget for a city whose constituents they are not electorally responsible to. Hopefully, this is the first step in the long road to greater District autonomy.”
“Residents must see more than a reprieve from this year’s serial federal shutdown brinks,” Norton said in a statement. “We must now make use of the damage done by moving on all fronts for full budget autonomy.”