Williams Requests $357 Million in U.S. Aid for D.C.
By Spencer S. Hsu and Allan Lengel
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, May 20, 2004; Page B03
Mayor Anthony A. Williams asked Congress for $49 million yesterday to offset rising District security costs, including measures for next year's presidential inauguration and $15 million to combat violence in the city's public schools.
Security requests pumped up to $357 million a wish list for federal aid delivered by the mayor as he presented the $4.2 billion locally funded portion of the District's 2005 budget to the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the District. Williams (D) was joined by D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) and Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi.
Lawmakers predicted that the city will receive only a fraction of the sum once the House and Senate vote on the budget this summer. But members in both parties praised the city's fiscal record -- seven balanced budgets and improved bond ratings -- and expressed confidence that some of the mayor's top priorities would be met.
To add security for the inauguration, the first presidential swearing-in ceremony since the 2001 terrorist attacks, Williams asked Congress to increase the annual federal security fund for the District to $25 million from $15 million. The fund reimburses the city for such expenses as police overtime. Williams also sought $15 million in one-time aid to boost a plan to transfer security for the city's 64,000-student school system to the D.C. police.
In addition, city officials requested $9 million to start building an $80 million city bioterrorism and forensics evidence laboratory. D.C. evidence is now handled by FBI and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration labs, but cases are subject to limitations and delays, city officials said. President Bush's proposed 2005 budget seeks to allow the agencies to charge state and local governments for use of the labs, potentially saddling the District with at least $3 million in additional costs, a DEA spokesman said.
"The lab is a good illustration of the problems the District has," said Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), the subcommittee chairman and a former prosecutor. "If this were any other city, the state would be doing the lab work and able to pay part of the costs."
The symbiotic relationship between the District and federal government was on display across the city yesterday. While D.C. leaders took their case for funds to Congress, about two dozen residents spoke at a D.C Council hearing on a proposal to give the city a vote in the House of Representatives.
Twelve of 13 council members have tentatively endorsed a proposal that would give the District a seat in the House as an "interim step" to statehood or full voting representation in Congress, which would include two seats in the U.S. Senate.
Paul Strauss (D), the District's unpaid elected statehood lobbyist or "shadow senator," said at the council hearing that it was premature to abandon the goal of full representation. But others argued in favor of the resolution, including the League of Women Voters and the Greater Washington Board of Trade.
"When the 15th Amendment was passed, it did not involve women. Do people think that shouldn't have passed because it wasn't enough?" said Lawrence Guyot Jr., a Ward 1 advisory neighborhood commissioner and a former Mississippi civil rights worker.
Before the Senate, Williams pushed an agenda focused on the city's robust financial performance and pleas for additional aid.
Williams urged senators to support a bill sponsored by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and regional lawmakers in both parties to create an $800 million-a-year payment for debt and infrastructure. The payment is included in a plan by Williams to offset a structural deficit, the difference between the city's tax revenue, which Congress limits, and required expenditures.
Senators agreed to consider a bid to loosen city cash reserve requirements, freeing up at least $50 million a year. Williams also requested a boost, to $25.6 million from $17 million, in the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant program, which allows city high school graduates to attend colleges and universities across the country at reduced tuition rates.
Staff writer Lori Montgomery contributed to this report.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company