DC Gets a Short-Term Escape Clause in Deal to End Shutdown

The District can finally tap into its budget now that the shutdown is over, but it'll have to pay itself back for the contingency funds that were used.

By: Benjamin Freed

Wedged into the continuing resolution that Congress passed last night to reopen the federal government is language approving DC’s budget for the remainder of the 2014 fiscal year (which runs through September of next year), ensuring that, even if there are more shutdowns in the months ahead, local functions won’t be impacted.

While that measure gives DC a year’s leeway, it stops short of real budget autonomy, and perhaps even positions the District as a negotiating chip in future federal budget fights.

Representative Darrell Issa, the House Oversight chairman and therefore DC’s ultimate fiscal authority, noted the difference in a statement released by his office.

“This is very good, but we can do better,” he said. “The recent lapse of appropriations illustrates the need for a permanent solution which offers D.C. enhanced local budget flexibility and autonomy.”

An amendment to the Home Rule Charter designed to do just that technically takes effect January 1, but some officials, including DC’s own attorney general, have questioned its legality. The amendment was approved by voters in April, but a popular referendum could be challenged as an end run around Congress's constitutional authority to oversee DC's budget process.

During the shutdown, the city was forced to run off of a $144 million cash reserve, which had dropped to about $30 million by yesterday. The contingency fund will be replenished through DC’s local tax revenue.

If there is any lingering animosity from having the District's budget strangled for two weeks, it isn’t reflected in a statement Mayor Vince Gray released last night thanking a host of lawmakers, Republican and Democratic, for “recognizing the District’s unique plight.” Gray singled out DC congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton for her advocacy. “We are fortunate to have her fighting for us every day,” his statement said.