This year, as city officials put the fiscal 1979 budget in motion, one of the major questions is whether the Congress will increase the federal payment to an unprecedented $317 million to help close the gap between revenues and expenditures.
Fifty years ago, as the city began to look forward to the fiscal 1929 budget, the question was whether Congress would continue to hand out the federal payment in any amount they saw fit - usually about $9 million - or return to a "manifestly just, fair and equitable" system that guaranteed the Congress would pick up a certain fixed share of the city's budget.
Not surprisingly the city's taxpayers favored a system which committed the federal government to a fixed percentage of the costs of running the District and mounted a lobbying effort to reinstitute the proportional split that started in 1878 as a 50-50 sharing of costs. Later the federal proportion was reduced to 40 per cent, and then slipped even lower when Congress started disregarding sharing guidelines altogether.
By 1929, the federal government's share amounted to only an estimated 28.5 per cent, and fine philosophical arguments began to be advanced for the other system.
"The lump sum is a gratuity, a dole, which can be increased or decreased at the will of the Congress. The definitely proportioned contribution is an equity," huffed a local newspaper 1927.
To no avail. The federal payment has not reached 40 per cent of the general fund expenditures since 1924, according to this year's budget summary. And it has dropped as low as 8.5 per cent.
On the larger question of overall spending the three District of commissioners in October 1927 asked the federal Bureau of the Budget for $42 million, compared to a request this year for $1.4 billion.
One of the tools the three appointed commissioners used in preparing the budget request was a Citizen's Advisory Council report. The council was made up of D.C. civic and citizens associations.
The items in the council's proposed budget, reflected in newspaper accounts in the D.C. Public Library's Washingtoniana collection, included requests to:
increase the three commissioners' salaries from $7,500 to $10,000. City council members are now paid $26,570, and the mayor is paid $54,000.
include no money for renovation of Chain Bridge. "While a new Chain Bridge is badly needed, the council does not believe than any item for its reconstruction should be included in the District of Columbia budget until such time as the State of Virginia or the federal government makes provision for sharing in the costs on a 50-50 basis." And the council didn't think the city should pay for a sewer on the Washington Monument grounds or streets on the mall either.
provide $45,000 for a public convenience station at Wisconsin and M Street NW.
increase spending on sewers by $321,110. "Many sections of the District are entirely without sewerage facilities, and the council believes that the appropriation for this service should be increased as recommended until every section of the city has ample sewerage facilities."
require theaters to pay for the expense of posting firemen on the premises during the performances. "In this connection, attention is invited to the fact that traction companies are required to pay all salaries to policemen stationed at street car crossings."
increase the money available to transform the Anacostia River flats into a park.
include funding for a water main "in Alabama Avenue from 15th Street to a point opposite Garfield school as this entire section is without city water."
Then, as now, some of the Congress's concerns were in other areas. The appropriation bill adopted contained, among other features, a proviso that a building on B Street, near the southwest corner of the Capitol Grounds, not be used as a detention facility, as the city had apparently contemplated - "nor any building adjoining or close to the Capitol Grounds."