Last updated: October 01. 2013 4:42PM - 683 Views
Associated Press

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(AP) District of Columbia lawmakers approved emergency legislation Tuesday to keep tens of thousands of municipal workers on the job and collecting pay during a partial federal government shutdown.

The D.C. Council bill authorizes the government to tap its contingency fund to pay the roughly 32,000 city workers during the shutdown. The measure, along with a related decision by Mayor Vincent Gray to declare all local government operations essential, means that all municipal services from trash collection to libraries will continue uninterrupted in a city otherwise grappling with the impact of the partial federal shutdown.

"Everything is open for business today," a smiling Gray told reporters after the council vote.

Gray made a rare appearance in the D.C. Council chamber as councilmembers praised his stance in keeping local government open in spite of gridlock in Congress, which wields ultimate authority over the city's funding and laws.

"So frequently it's easy for visitors to come to our city, and say, 'Well, we're visiting the monuments and forget about the people who live here and the plight of the people who live," Councilmember Yvette Alexander said.

The Council legislation permits the government to pay workers from a contingency cash reserve fund holding roughly $144 million. Officials expect the fund to cover about two weeks of operations and say that total could grow if an additional $110.1 from an emergency cash reserve fund is also used.

Even with local government operational, hundreds of thousands of federal workers were sent home, some of Washington's most significant landmarks including the Lincoln Memorial were closed to visitors and federal agencies that employ a large percentage of the regional workforce were essentially shuttered. Metrorail ridership rose slightly during the mid-day hours, perhaps because of the early dismissal of federal workers.

"We are aware of federal workers heading home from their offices during the mid-day hours, so certainly some if not most of the additional trips taken during those were hours were federal workers heading home early," said Metro spokesman Dan Stessel.

The D.C. council vote came even as House Republicans planned votes to reopen parts of the government. That would include allowing D.C. to collect garbage and pay for other city services with its own tax money. White House spokesman Jay Carney dismissed that idea as "not a serious approach."

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said the proposal was still a positive development in that it reflects an understanding that the D.C. government is its own government and is distinct from "federal agencies."

"I think it's important that we did that because the government needs to keep functioning. Just because the House can't agree with the Senate is not a reason for citizens' trash to not be picked up," Mendelson said.

Associated Press
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