The first month and a half under President Trump has been dizzying, to put it mildly. He’s taken actions promising a range of harms to include: withholding federal money from “sanctuary” cities, a travel ban aimed at seven Muslim-majority countries, and even rescinding the student protections based on their gender identity. In addition to the stress-inducing actions of the president, congressional Republicans are still committed to repealing the Affordable Care Act, a move that would have massive implications for millions of Americans.
We are living in incredibly uncertain times, which has given rise to the #resistance movement. Millions have joined marches to protest the disheartening steps taken by the Trump administration and states across the country are developing strategies to protect themselves against potentially sweeping federal policy changes. Unfortunately, here in the District of Columbia, our circumstances are more precarious.
Statehood confers certain protections, though those protections are not without limits. By virtue of having it, states are afforded more avenues through which they can act to thwart ill-conceived federal action. Similarly, states have at their disposal clear defenses and certain recourse.
As D.C. is not a state, it begs the question—what can we do to protect ourselves?
The District of Columbia has long been a pawn in the political meddling of Congress. Congressional leadership has wrongly interfered with the city’s ability to govern itself by attacking the rights of women and families to make their own reproductive health decisions, blocking the city from using local funds to legalize marijuana and, most recently, attempting to block D.C. physicians from prescribing medication to terminally ill residents.
While most attempts fail, we are faced with an unpredictable executive administration and an emboldened Congress. The current climate requires us to be more diligent, defiant, and creative.
As the city is currently enjoying a $2.4 billion General Fund Balance and our cash reserves have reached $1.165 billion, we need to be prepared to establish a new, non-lapsing special fund to help us continue to provide services to our residents in the event of something catastrophic, like the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
The resources to establish a new fund are ample and could be available now.
I have stated repeatedly that the time is ripe to reassess our reserves, how they are currently spent and how they should be spent in the future. Continuing to pursue 60 days of cash on hand may not be the best approach, particularly if we are unwilling to exhaust all of those funds to ensure that our residents have access to needed services in the event of federal changes.
Nevertheless while our cash reserves, the contingency cash reserve in particular, could be used to help residents in need due to “unexpected obligations created by federal law,” any money taken from our reserves must be paid back within 2 years.
Last month, I introduced the Reserve Fund Improvement Amendment Act of 2017, which standardizes the reserve fund calculations to allow the city to meet its reserve requirements this year, freeing up $89.7 million of the reserve funding surplus to be used immediately for other investments. Though legislative amendments would be required, this money is a perfect example of available funding to establish a new fund.
Similarly, the city’s Chief Financial Officer recently revised the local fund revenue forecast upward by $128.1 million in FY17 alone. Pursuant to recommendations of the Tax Revision Commission, current law requires that all recurring revenue above the prior year’s February forecast be allocated to tax policy changes. This year, the current law should be amended and the Council should move the additional revenue into a new, non-lapsing fund. Combined with the $89.7M of potential reserve fund surplus, the city should be able to immediately deposit $217.8M into the new non-lapsing fund.
As a city, it is time we stand ready to fight. We cannot allow ourselves to be lulled into complacency. Though we have yet to see the full scope of what could happen at the federal level, we know with certainty that we have an obligation to our residents. We need to act decisively and with a sense of urgency to pursue all strategies to ensure that our residents are protected and our coffers are properly resourced.