A high-level White House task force on District of Columbia problems met for the first time yesterday and agreed on several "short range" items to be discussed between now and July 12. After the issues are discussed, recommendations for action will be made to President Carter.
Among the issues scheduled for discussion was whether the federal government should help the city meet $14 million in outstanding pension obligations and help pay $19.8 million in bonds sold to build Robert F. Kennedy Stadium.
Also targeted for early discussion by the 14-member task force is whether the city should be granted voting representation in Congress (it now has one nonvoting delegate) and the effectiveness of the present statutes that require a 30-day congressional review period before any legislation passed by the City Council becomes effective. Congress can veto the legislation if it desires.
The task force will also discuss the relation between the U.S. Attorney's Office, which currently prosecutes all criminal cases in the city, and the Corporation Counsel's Office, which handles only misdemeanors but would like to begin prosecuting criminal cases.
The federal payment, which now is set at a maximum of $300 million but some city officials believe should be doubled, will also be discussed. The payment is the federal government's annual grant to the city to compensate for the loss of property taxes from tax-exempt federal buildings and other costs associated with being the nation's capital.
The group also agreed to discuss at least five long-range issues that are of less urgency because there is no pending legislation or other action affrecting them. Key among these is a commuter tax, which city officials have long proclaimed as a fiscal necessity but which they cannot enact without congressional approval. Suburban jurisdictions staunchly oppose such a tax, and its prospects for passage have been considered dim.
Other long-range issues up for discussion will be the city's budget process, planning and land use and the impact on the city of actions by federal agencies.
Yesterday's hour-long meeting was held in the Cabinet Room at the White House and chaired by Vice President Walter F. Mondale, the convener of the 14-member task force.
Several key members of the task force said they were pleased with the outcome of yesterday's organizational session. Much of that praise for the meeting was qualified, however.
"I'm cautiously optimistic," said City Council Chairman Sterling Tucker, one of two city government representatives. "I want to make sure that the task force does not become a way of muting the voice of the White House on local affairs. It should not be a place where issues die in discussion."
White House aides on the panel, who were also satisfied with yesterday's session, cautioned afterwards that the role of the group should not be overestimated.
"We hope the expectations won't be too high as far as people in the city are concerned," said Jim Dyke, an aide to Mondale. "This is not a decision making body. it's purpose is to provide information to the President."
D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D) said he felt the sessions could be productive because for the first time they would permit a single forum for the views of all the three units of government affecting city decisions - city officials, Congress and the White House.
The task force is composed of seven congressmen, two city officials and four White House aides, in addition to Mondale. It's next meeting will be Tuesday at the District Building.