For 10 days since the partial government shutdown that began, Washington, DC has relied on its own reserves to keep itself running.
At a running cost of nearly $20 million a day, the city has spent nearly $200 million of its rapidly depleting contingency reserve of "several hundred million," according to Mayor Vincent C. Gray.
Under federal law the nation's capital, home to 632,000 residents, is essentially treated as a federal agency, says the mayor.
So, even though the District of Columbia holds $1.5 billion in a "rainy day fund" -- it can't use it. The majority of that money is unavailable to the city in the midst of the shutdown. The Antideficiency Act of 1870 "prohibits the government from incurring any monetary obligation for which Congress has not appropriated funds," and that applies to the federal district -- meaning the capital city can't even spend its own locally raised taxes.
"The District's own money is caught in the middle of this tug of war," said Gray.
Gray, speaking at a public charter school, said Thursday that the District is in "uncharted territory," and will soon miss a payment of $150 million to the charter schools that educate 43% of Washington's public school students. Also, Medicaid providers in Washington are owed $90 million after a payment was delayed last week, tax refunds have been suspended, and the city hasn't paid a multi-million dollar bill to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. WMATA is now compelled to run Washington area buses and the subway system, which incorporates Virginia and Maryland, on its own cash reserves.
When the federal government shutdown twice in 1995 and 1996, the capital of the United States was exempted from the prohibition of spending its own money. Republicans have tried to issue the same exemption this time around; one of the piecemeal bills passed in the House would allow the District to fund itself, but President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) have opposed the bill.