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While a shutdown of the federal government at midnight is looking all but certain, the District’s government—-and all of the trash collectors and libraries that come with it—-will keep operating no matter what. That’s due to a new plan hatched last week that, unlike the previous scheme to keep the government open, won’t send any local politicians to jail. Here’s how it’ll work.

Where’s the money to operate the city government coming from?

The District will draw the money, at least in the beginning, from its $144 million “rainy day” contingency fund. The money will be more than enough to cover the city’s payroll this week, according to Office of the Chief Financial Officer spokesman David Umansky.

How long will it last?

The District expects the contingency fund to last through Oct. 13, according to the Post. After that, the city would have to restrict operations to essential personnel or risk breaking the law against operating without an appropriation from Congress.

Wasn’t the mayor supposed to be arrested?

That could still happen, but if it does, it won’t be because Mayor Vince Gray kept the rec centers open. A plan floated briefly last week to just keep operating without getting permission would have violated a federal law against spending unappropriated money. But Gray has moved to declare the whole city government essential (more on that below). At any rate, since the contingency fund dollars come from saving money that was already appropriated, it can be tapped without legal issues.

What does the Office of Management and Budget say?

The federal Office of Management and Budget hasn’t responded yet to Gray’s separate proposal to make all city employees essential as a way to avoid the shutdown. If OMB agrees with the mayor, the contingency fund plan wouldn’t be necessary, because the District government would basically be treated the same way as on-duty military personnel or Border Patrol agents, all of whom are allowed to keep working without appropriations legislation under an exemption for essential employees.

Mayoral spokesman Pedro Ribeiro says the District doesn’t know when OMB will announce its decision.

“Regardless of the Office of Management and Budget’s decision, the District government will be able to stay open until the contingency cash reserve is drained,” Ribeiro says.

Where’s the D.C. Council?

The Council will take up emergency legislation at its Tuesday meeting to declare all D.C. workers essential and pay for government through the contingency fund. Because Gray has already decided to spend the money, though, it’s just for show.

“It’s mostly for moral support, and we’re happy to have it, although it doesn’t really have any real legal effect,” Ribeiro says.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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