WASHINGTON — District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray is demanding a meeting with President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, citing a potential loss of municipal services and funding from the federal government shutdown that began Oct. 1.
The district has been operating on reserve funds for the past week, but those funds will soon be depleted, Gray warned the three in a letter sent Tuesday.
As D.C. is prohibited by law from using other federally-controlled funds, it may soon face a loss of basic services and miss payments to the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, the mayor said.
"In no other part of our country are Americans facing the loss of basic municipal or state services due to the federal government shutdown," Gray wrote. "Families in Chicago, Cincinnati, and Las Vegas are not worried that their local governments won't be able to maintain basic services like schools, police and fire protection, or trash collection - and neither should families here in the District of Columbia. But once again, our citizens find themselves innocent bystanders to a federal government shutdown - made even more insulting because we have no voting voice in Congress - and an archaic and unjust federal law prevents us from spending our own local tax dollars to provide services for which our residents have already paid. This is simply unconscionable. And it is long past time for the district's budget to be decoupled from the federal budget."
Gray also issued a press release noting that during the previous federal government shutdown, which lasted 21 days from Dec. 16, 1995 to Jan. 6, 1996, Congress and then-President Clinton agreed to allow the district to spend its own money to resume local operations and services after five days. Congress has not taken that step during the latest shutdown, which happened after House Republicans and Senate Democrats failed to agree on a new spending bill prior to the beginning of the 2014 fiscal year last week.
The district has already been forced to delay funding to D.C. Water and WMATA, Gray' told the national leaders. Both of those entities issue bonds to support the area's infrastructure.
DC Water, which currently has more than $200 billion of debt outstanding, requires separate approval of its budget from Congress, and is also currently operating on its own "limited contingency fund," Gray said.
"What happens when their cash reserves run out?," Gray's asked the three leaders.
The mayor, a Democrat, also said the district could face problems making payments to Medicare providers and charter schools. Also, unlike any other city in the nation, he continued, the federal government shutdown prohibits the district from distributing Urban Areas Security Initiative funding that "supports the protection of strategic and high-visibility targets" in the D.C. area.
Gray said he looks forward to meeting with the three about the shut down, and urged them to give the district budget autonomy.
"We are simply asking to be treated like every other state or municipal government in this country: give our elected officials the simple ability to use our own tax dollars to meet the needs of our residents and visitors," Gray wrote. "It is time for you to act."