Several District officials and judges are asking Congress to restore funds slashed from their budgets by Mayor Walter E. Washington and the City Council. Despite D.C.'s home rule government, Congress retains the final word on the city budget.
Police Chief Maurice J. Cullinane and Corporation Counsel John R. Risher Jr. both told the House District Appropriations Subcommittee last week that their budgets - as approved by the council - would cut manpower to dangerously low levels.
The city's two top judges, Theodore R. Newman of the D.C. Court of Appeals and Harold H. Greene of the Superior Court, sounded similar warnings when they appeared before the subcommittee this week.
Newman said his court, the equivalent of a state supreme court, is so impoverished that it cannot hire a librarian for its vital law library. "We have nobody running our library now, and it is in something resembling chaos," Newman declared.
Greene said a mounting caseload is being handled by a declining number of employees because of city budget cuts in recent years. He said the court had a thousand employees in 1973 and that the number fell to 930 last year.
The Superior Court's budget runs around $21 million, a figure that has remained stable or dropped despite rising costs, Greene said.
In describing their problems to the subcommittee, headed by Rep. William H. Natcher (D-Ky.) the jurists were exercising a prerogative of judicial independence from city administrators.
Cullinane and Risher, however, are part of the District government executive branch and normally are expected to support the budget in the form submitted by the city to Congress.
Cullinane was invited by Natcher to complain about a budget that would reduce the police department's uniformed force by 86 persons. The cost saving would run around $1.3 million.
With Mayor Washington and City Council Chairman Sterling Tucker looking on glumly, Cullinane said any cutback could lead to increased crime and "crime will spiral as it gets out of control . . . fist is too serious a problem to take a chance on."
Washington reminded Natcher that, whatever he said in response to questions, Cullinane was sworn to support the budget that cuts the manpower. Tucker told Natcher that "there are only so many dollars that are available" to meet all the city's needs.
Natcher, unmoved, said "it would be right hard (justify the cuts) if you went out in the wards to talk to people . . . As one memember of the committee, I am not going to agree on any reduction of the police department."
Rep. Clair W. Burgener (R-Calif.), the subcommittee's ranking minority member, agreed with Natcher, which means Cullinane probably will get House support for his full force.
Risher, a close friend of the mayor, spoke the next day and volunteered his distress at the reduced budget.
Stressing his aggressive approach to the city's top legal job - the equivalent of a state attorney general as well as a city attorney - Risher said he would be crippled by the cuts made by the council.
Risher said he already knows he must drop 35 employees by Oct. 1. The council-approved budget would mean a further reduction of 18 positions, he said.
"The personnel problems created in my office are enormous and intolerable," Risher declared. "The cutbacks will aggravate this office's traditionally high turnover rate among young attorneys."
Risher said his proposed budget of $3.7 million is actually $450,000 less than in 1976 despite rising costs and an increasing workload.
Asked later whether he was overstepping his role by seeking more than the council recommended for his office, Risher told a reporter that he was meeting the ethics of the legal profession.
"I feel an ethical duty to tell a client the extent to which I cannot serve him," Risher said.