Government Shutdown 2013: Mayor Gray fights for city's right to spend own tax money

WASHINGTON (WJLA) - "Free D.C.! Free D.C.!" rang the chants Thursday night as Washington's mayor warned of dire consequences if the federal government doesn't allow the city to spend its own tax money.

Mayor Vince Gray spoke before a packed auditorium at Friendship Public Charter School's Chamberlain campus in Southeast, and emphasized that charter schools are one of the many things facing a cash shortfall if something doesn't happen.

"Why on earth would the 632,000 residents of the District not be able to spend our own tax money on our own services?" Gray said. "These are consequences that no other city, no other state, has to face."

The city is required to have federal approval before spending its own tax money to pay for items in the city's budget, and the city has been using money from a rainy day fund to keep its government open and to pay employees. But it's running out fast.

A spokesperson for the mayor says in a little more than a week, it will likely all be gone. At that point, the city will have nothing left it is allowed to spend -- unless Congress acts first.

"It's very upsetting that most of the United States does not understand that we are their colony and their subjects and we do not have the same rights that they have," said District resident Ann Hume Loikow.

And the fight for the federal government to allow the District to spend its own money has led to unusual alliances. Washington is known for being a very liberal city, but Wednesday city leaders were joined by conservative House Republican Darrell Issa of California at a press conference supporting freeing the money.

And as the press conference ended, Gray and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who had been speaking nearby, exchanged words.

When Gray asked Reid if he would support allowing the city to spend its own tax dollars, Reid quipped, "I'm on your side. Don't screw it up, okay?"

Gray's spokesperson says later that night Gray and Reid had a more cordial conversation by phone.

Democrats in Congress along with President Obama have been adamant that they won't allow Republicans to pass piecemeal funding bills for the federal government -- they want one big bill.

"Allowing the D.C. government to spend our own money is entirely different," Gray said at Thursday night's meeting. "Allowing us to spend our own money is not a political issue."

Nevertheless, a bill passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives last week that would have allowed D.C. to spend its tax money was not supported by the President or the majority Democratic Senate.

Gray says the city is being used as a pawn in a game of political chess, and he's hoping Democrats in Congress and the President change their minds on the D.C. issue.

He says the issue is already an urgent one. The city wasn't able to make a $90 million payment to Medicaid providers that was due last Friday. The city also missed a $74 million payment to Metro.

And Gray says the lack of money that the city is legally allowed to spend is having a negative effect on efforts to keep the area safe from terrorists.

He adds that if nothing changes, the city won't be able to make a $150 million payment due to the city's charter schools later this month.