Staff Editorial: Del. Norton’s budget provision saved D.C. from shutdown fears

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At one point amid the recent federal budget negotiations, pundits were placing the risk of a government shutdown at 50-50. Historically, such situations have been disruptive to many D.C. residents and tourists — but amid last week’s fears that one was imminent, city officials could at least be confident that the D.C. government would not have to close.

Until recently, the District government had been treated as a federal agency — even though it is funded primarily by locally raised tax dollars and other revenue. Past shutdowns curtailed local operations or forced the use of reserve funds, and jeopardized the District’s financial security in the eyes of Wall Street.

But thanks to D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, this risk is no longer in place. Even at times when Congress is unable to do its job and pass a budget, the District can continue to spend in accordance with its locally raised and congressionally approved budget. Each year since the last shutdown, in 2013, Del. Norton has successfully achieved budget language guaranteeing this, according to a news release from her office.

“Until my provision was enacted, shutdown threats forced the District to invest time and money preparing contingency shutdown plans, even if shutdowns were avoided,” Del. Norton said in the release. “If the District shut down, it could have defaulted on certain financing agreements and leases. The city’s partners, Wall Street and vendors alike charge a risk premium for the uncertainty created by shutdown threats.”

We’re grateful to Del. Norton for her successful effort. While the outcome she achieved is utterly logical — the District government is clearly not a federal agency — convincing her colleagues in Congress to adopt a sensible provision was surely not an easy task.

It would also be logical for Congress to be even less involved in the District’s affairs. No other jurisdiction in the country shares our local concern with congressional interference, or needs a specific annual exemption from the effects of a federal shutdown. But Del. Norton’s achievement has already yielded tangible benefits. Even if Congress hadn’t averted a shutdown last week, the District would have been safe. Del. Norton has provided us with the comforting guarantee that whatever Congress does with the federal budget, the District government can carry on with its daily business.