City Desk

Working for the Shutdown

While the city's federal overlords struggle over how to deal with less than 1 percent of the projected national budget deficit this year, District officials today began sketching out what would happen to city government agencies if the federal government shuts down at the end of this week.

The bottom line: It won't be good.

Police, fire, and emergency medical services would still operate, because they're classified as "essential" and wouldn't be affected by the budget impasse, Mayor Vince Gray told reporters. Schools would stay open, as well. But the following departments would all close: the Department of Motor Vehicles; Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs; Department of Public Works; Department of Transportation; and D.C. Public Library. That means no trash pickups for a week, no library books, no driver's license renewals, and no building permits. (Seems DPW would resume trash collection if the shutdown continues for more than a week, following precedent set the last time this happened, in 1995.) On the bright side, parking enforcement would be suspended—apparently collecting money from meters doesn't count as an essential service. Road work would stop, except for emergency repairs. And DDOT spokesman John Lisle says Capital Bikeshare and the Circulator would keep running, even if the rest of the agency closes.

That's because every dollar of the more than $5 billion in local taxes and fees raised here—like income taxes withheld from paychecks, property taxes paid automatically by mortgage companies, or quarters pulled out of parking meters—technically gets turned over to the U.S. Treasury and appropriated back to the District. Once the D.C. Council and mayor approve a budget, it still has to go to Congress to be enacted. And the District's appropriations bill, like most for the fiscal year that technically started Oct. 1, hasn't passed yet.

Besides trash pickups and library books, other agencies will shut down, too; city officials warned that D.C.-issued BlackBerries would cease working for anyone who's not essential, including many D.C. Council staffers. (Insert your own joke about whether the councilmembers are essential here.) About 14,000 of the city's 35,000 employees would be furloughed, a PowerPoint presentation the mayor's office posted online says.

The District will keep updating new shutdown-related information dc.gov, and the 311 hotline (which is, apparently, essential) will also have updates. Channel 16, which along with Channel 13 will keep broadcasting, should have some info, too.

D.C. Councilmember Michael A. Brown, though, says in a press release that Gray should basically tell the feds to shove it:

Now the city and our workers are under attack and stand in limbo because Congress fails to do their job and continues to deny us the ability to appropriate our local funds. The fact that we are at risk of damaging our city’s fiscal health due to Congressional irresponsibility is inconceivable. There has been no greater time than now to demand full autonomy and to push for Statehood. We can no longer sit idly by, as our trash and city services will soon do.... I call on Congress to exempt the District from their political tug-of-war and if not, I encourage Mayor Gray, regardless of Federal prohibitions or repercussions, to declare ALL D.C. Government workers essential.

A shutdown would also cost the city a lot of lost tax revenue, Chief Financial Officer Nat Gandhi told the council this morning. If tourists stay away, because museums will close, the city will miss out on about $1 million a week. And if federal employees aren't working, and therefore aren't getting paid, the city stands to lose about $5.5 million in income taxes for each week the feds stay closed—money it wouldn't get back unless furloughed government workers get back pay later.

Meanwhile, Metro says it will stay open, but it might cut back the number of cars it deploys if it turns out ridership drops because government workers aren't commuting—which could cut the usual crowds on the subway by 5 to 20 percent.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Army

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  • question

    Any idea whether DC government employees who are not essential will eventually be paid for the days they are furloughed? How long will it take essential DC employees to be paid for their work during the shut down?

  • Rick Mangus

    Bring it on Baby!

  • Mike Madden

    question—

    That depends on what the eventual resolution to the shutdown (if it happens) is. Last time, Congress eventually gave back pay to furloughed workers; if they do the same thing this time, D.C. workers should also be covered. But they may decide not to, given the political hostility to, well, government.

    I believe anyone who's deemed essential would be paid on time, but I'm not sure.

  • NU78

    Mike, there appears to be some question about whether U.S. military personnel deployed to war zones will be paid on time, so I doubt that "essential" personnel who have to work would be treated differently...

  • Mike Madden

    NU78—

    Good point. Then again, members of Congress may declare themselves essential, which probably makes it likelier essential workers will be paid promptly; after all, it's one thing not to pay soldiers you've sent off to risk their lives, it's another thing not to pay yourself...

  • Brahmin

    Please read the Federal Pages of the Washington Post. Today, they are reporting that backpay is very unlikely.

    I want to share a story. I work in a federal/local government enclave. I walked into our local Safeway yesterday. This location has few residents and serves mostly for the workforce that is there. I asked the cashier how the federal government shut down would affect her. She first said "there is going to be a shutdown?" I pointed to the paper next to her with the headline on the frontpage. She yelled "good..close it down."

    I asked wouldn't this affect your busines. She said "no..they would still come in."

    The private sector fallout would be huge.

    And that is the sum of the Republican argument. Of course , this would affect her --no government workforce means her employer would not need as many workers to cover a shift. Revenues from that store is going to be lower. And all the things government keeps going and most are unaware will grind to a halt.

  • Rick Mangus

    It's all a game of chicken!

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