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Nation's capital says it won't go dark during shutdown

The city that proudly protests “taxation without representation” is telling Congress it has no intention of going dark during a government shutdown.

The District of Columbia, which has long argued that it deserves more budget autonomy from the federal government, would typically be dependent on the flow of federal dollars to keep the city running at full speed. But – after initially warning that services like trash pickup and access to public libraries would be halted – D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray has made clear that the city will stay open for business even if the government shuts down at midnight Monday.

“Unless somebody takes me out in handcuffs, I’m not shutting down anything,” Gray said on Saturday, according to the Washington Post.

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The district’s lawyers argue that they can keep the city up and running by using $144 million in cash reserves, which could meet the D.C. payroll for about two weeks. That fund would be replenished after a shutdown concluded.

D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan penned a memo Friday to the Office of Management and Budget, stating that the city has the legal authority to expend money from the contingency fund in the event of a shutdown.

Gray is also making a separate pitch to declare all 32,000 D.C. government employees essential in the event of a shutdown. OMB has yet to respond to that move.

Officials point out that the cash reserve strategy didn’t exist during the shutdowns of 1995 and 1996. Just a single week of furlough then cost the district $7 million in lost productivity, according to D.C. budget aides. The region’s tourism industry was also hit by an estimated $50 million loss by the twin shutdowns over a total of 27 days.

The District’s defiance comes as the city continues to argue for more autonomy and – ultimately – statehood with full representation in Congress.

A construction elevator (R) climbs up the Washington Monument, currently under repair due to earthquake damage, with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial at right in Washington September 30, 2013. Some popular tourist spots in the nation's capital would probably close if a government shutdown occurs. Gary Cameron / Reuters

“Because of the unique lack of autonomy under which the District continues to operate, we are treated like a federal agency when it comes to a federal shutdown,” Gray said Sunday on WNEW radio. “It is ridiculous that a city of 632,000 people – a population larger than that of the states of Wyoming and Vermont – is treated this way.”

Officials and activists argue that D.C.’s economic well-being shouldn’t depend on a Congress that does not offer the District’s representative a full vote.

“The most unjust part of this entire affair is the fact that our own congresswoman, Eleanor Holmes Norton, is not even allowed to vote on whether the federal government stays open,” Gray said. “No other jurisdiction in this great country is taxed by the federal government and expected to send its sons and daughters off to war without voting representation in Congress.”

Advocates for D.C. voting rights see the city’s determination to stay open in the face of a shutdown as energizing as they continue to push for full representation in Congress.

“All of this is coming about from sheer frustration and the realization that we’re the only jurisdiction being treated this way,” said Kimberly Perry, the executive director of pro-statehood organization D.C. Vote. “We should not have to shut down. This is unequal and it’s unfair.”