The news delivered to the House of Representatives in an official report yesterday would make any District of Columbia taxpayer's heart skip a beat and encourage a city financial official to break into joyful dance.
The House District Committee "propose to increase the level of the federal payment to increase the level of the federal payment to the District by $100 million" this year, to a new authorized total of $400 million, according to the report issued by the House Budget Committee.
There was only one problem. The proposal was not made by the House District Committee, but rather - on his own initiative - by its chairman, Rep. Charles C. Diggs Jr. (D-Mich.). Diggs acknowledged his authorship yesterday, but said he had said he has no plans to make the proposal come true.
No legislation to increase the federal payment authorization above the current ceiling of $300 million has been introduced. The payment is intended to reimburse the city for taxes it cannot collect on federally owned property.
"I included the increase (in a response to a Budget Committee questionnaire) just in case lightning struck," Diggs told a reporter who was trying to confirm the Budget Committee's report of a prospective $100 million windfall to the city. Diggs said such an increase probably has no chance of passage.
The search for confirmation led first to Diggs' top aide on the District Committee, Edward C. Sylvester Jr., the staff director.
Sylvester said he was baffled by the Budget Committee's statement that the District Committee "proposes to increase" the federal payment by $100 million.
"We don't have any legislation anywhere in sight," Sylvester said. "There is nothing on the drawing boards anywhere . . . I just can't imagine what they're talking about."
He referred the reporter to another staff member, Dale MacIver, who reached into his files and produced a copy of the questionnaire Diggs sent on March 11 to Robert N. Giaimo (D-Conn.), chairman of the Budget Committee. MacIver said Diggs circulated the response to members of the District Committee but, to his knowledge got no responses.
Included was the $100 million item with an explanation: "The $300 million ceiling . . . set in 1973 in the (D.C.) Home Rule Act may prove inadequate for fiscal year 1978."
That statement led the Budget Committee to list the increase as a serious possibility.
The report is the factual underpinning of the Budget Committee's proposed resolution setting a $462-billion target for all congressional appropriations in the 1978 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. The resolution takes no specific position on the District payment.
The House debated the resolution yesterday and is expected to adopt it today.
The question of a higher federal payment for the city in fiscal 1978 may soon become academic, in any event. Hearing by the House District Appropriations Subcommittee into a proposed District budget based on a $300 million payment are scheduled to conclude next Monday - long before Congress could act to increase the federal contribution.
As drafted, the budget resolution could help resolve one other problem for the Washington area, a $36.3-million interest payment due July 1 on Metro subway construction bonds.
Rep. Joseph L. Fisher (D-Va.) a member of the Budget Committee and a former Metro board chairman, asked Giaimo during yesterday's debate whether the resolution would permit Congress to appropriate a $29 million federal contribution toward the interest payment without the need for separate authorizing legislation. Giaimo said it should.