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ROCKVILLE — The Montgomery County Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to grant County Executive Marc Elrich the authority to not charge furloughed federal employees for the use of public transportation in the event of a government shutdown on Feb. 12. The Council also approved budget increases for three different departments.
In the result of a partial or general shutdown of the federal government, furloughed employees would be able to use Ride On for free. The provision would be in effect only if it authorized by the county executive.
“It’s very important, and I’m glad we’re taking this step,” said Councilmember Will Jawando.
In addition to the state government and WMATA, Montgomery County officials were set to provide this assistance to furloughed federal employees during the previous government shutdown, which lasted 35 days, from Dec. 22, 2018, to Jan. 25, 2019. President Donald Trump provisionally ended the longest government shutdown in history when he signed a bipartisan three-week stopgap funding measure into law on Jan. 25.
The amendment went into effect immediately after it was passed in an effort to get ahead of a second impending shutdown that would begin on Feb. 15 (Friday), if it occurs. Congressional leaders working on the negotiations said on Feb. 11 that they had come to an agreement “in principle” that would prevent the shutdown. The agreement in principle would include $1.375 billion for physical barriers at the southern U.S.-Mexican border and a level of 40,520 for overall ICE beds in their detention centers.
“We got an agreement on all of it,” Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby said to the media on Feb. 11.
Any bill preventing a shutdown will require approval from President Donald Trump, and while it is unclear if he will sign the bill before Friday, many national news outlets have reported that Trump is leaning towards supporting the bill.
“Am I happy? The answer is no, I’m not. I’m not happy,” Trump said in response to the agreement in a press briefing on Feb 12.
The council discovered during the shutdown that the county executive did not have the authority to waive transportation fees, according to council member and lead amendment sponsor Hans Reimer. But the council does have the power to change fares when action is required.
“What we’re doing here is establishing that in the event of a partial or general shutdown, the county executive can do that,” Reimer said.
The amendment also extends to federal contractors for government response initiatives. Presentation of federal identification will be sufficient for these contractors to use Ride On for free. The council also recommended the appropriation of $1 million to the Department of Transportation. The money will be used to accelerate the fiscal capacity to transportation-infrastructure projects and help avoid road-rehabilitation funds.
In addition to recommending a supplemental appropriation of nearly $2 million to renovate the Council Office’s garage, the recommended more than $17 million be given to the Department of Recreation for the South County Regional Recreation and Aquatic Center. The money will fund a new regional senior and aquatic center on Elizabeth Square in Downtown Silver Spring.