City emerges from shutdown battle with hopes for budget freedom

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Mayor Vincent Gray said he was “relieved and thankful” after Congress passed a bill Wednesday to give the District autonomy over its budget for the rest of the fiscal year. Hatchet file photo
The budget deal reached Wednesday allows D.C. unprecedented access to spend its local tax dollars through next year, advancing a decades-long campaign for budget autonomy.

D.C. has been trapped in the budget impasse since Oct. 1., with Mayor Vincent Gray dipping into the city’s contingency fund to keep services running. He and the Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s non-voting representative, used the government shutdown to underscore the need for a D.C.-controlled budget and urged Congress to act.

The bill passed Wednesday night allows D.C. leaders to make budget decisions through September 2014, the Washington Post reported. This allows the city to escape the impact of another shutdown if Congress is unable to negotiate when the current budget deal expires in January.

“I’m relieved and thankful that we will not have to worry for the rest of the fiscal year about becoming collateral damage if, God forbid, the federal government is again forced to shut down,” Gray wrote in a release Wednesday.

He applauded congressional leaders for finally ending the shutdown, but said “the health, safety, and welfare of 632,000 District residents should never be a bargaining chip.”

Congress authorizes D.C. to spend the money from its budget, which is mostly funded by local tax dollars and set by city officials.

Kimberly Perry, executive director of the voting rights group D.C. Vote, said last week that the high-profile shutdown brought much-needed attention to an issue the city has struggled with for decades.

“We’re stuck in the middle and we shouldn’t be. No other state has this threat,” Perry said.

Gray said in an address last week that the city was “trapped in a terrible and unprecedented predicament,” and he has called on residents to push the federal government to free D.C. from the “shackles” restricting its control over the purse.

Mark Plotkin, a local political analyst, argued the city was treated like “some government agency.”

“The government cannot continue to treat us as a colony,” Plotkin, also a former commentator for WTOP radio, said.

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