President Carter, in a move likely to arouse the opposition of two key senators, renewed his support yesterday for a $317 million federal payment -- an increase of $82 million -- as part of the District of Columbia budget for the 1980 fiscal year.
Sending the 1980 federal budget to the Capitol, the president served notice of plans to shift more financial responsibility to the city. He proposed an end to the use of federally paid U.S. marshals in the D.C. Superior Court, said the city must stop borrowing money interest-free for short periods from the U.S. Treasury and set a 1982 timetable for the transfer of St. Elizabeths Hospital to city ownership.
For District taxpayers, the level of the federal payment is a bread-and-butter issue. In general, the lower the payment, the higher the taxes city residents must pay to finance local government operations.
Existing law puts a lid of $300 million on the tried to raise the figure to $317 million, but Congress did not even consider it. Eventually the lawmakers moved in the opposite direction, cutting the payment to $235 million and breaking a 22-year upward pattern.
Noting that Congress is still getting organized for the year, congressional staff members would not comment on the record about the new presidential proposal. But they indicated that nothing has happened to change the minds of two key senators on District matters, Thomas F. Eagleton (D-Mo.) and Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), who opposed the higher figure last year.
One staffer predicted that the city's unexpected $40 million surplus for fiscal 1978 could pose a problem.
In the past, Congress has directed the city to use such surpluses to pay rising costs. Former mayor Walter E. Washington urged the City Council last month to put the money into a revolving fund that would help it pay its bills from its own coffers rather than borrowing from the U.S. Treasury when funds run short. The council has not acted on the proposal.
In his budget message, the president said the city no longer can get interest-free loans from the Treasury to meet short-term needs for cash, but must borrow from private sources.
But the budget proposes that the city be allowed to borrow $159 million from the Treasury in fiscal 1980, to finance its construction program. The city pays interest on such long-term borrowing.
The federal budget documents sent to Congress yesterday did not contain the entire D.C. operating budget of $1.4 billion, but only the proposed U.S. Treasury share of the city's costs. The federal payment is intended to reflect the value of government-owned, tax-exempt real estate and the cost of services the city provides to government agencies.
For the Washington area, the federal budget contains a long list of outlays, including $275 million to continue work on the Metro subway, $21.1 million for a new Smithsonian Institution warehouse and exhibit-preservation facility at Suitland and $24 million to buy a site for a new Government Printing Office alongside the railroad yards north of Union Station.
The budget also put Congress on notice that it will soon be asked to approve $49.5 million to continue work on the Philip A. Hart Senate Office Building. The House of Representatives, with many members attacking the project as palatial and extravagant, refused last summer to grant money for the structure.
Some of the federal budgetary proposals could add to the District's future cost of operation.
For example, the budget document says the president soon will propose legislation to discontinue the use of deputy marshals to act as guards, bailiffs and process servers for the D.C. Superior Court. That could cost the city as much as $4 million a year in added payrolls.
There has been similar, but inconclusive, consideration at the White House of possibly ending the use of assistant U.S. attorneys to prosecute cases in Superior Court.
The budget document also set a target of 1982 for transferring St. Elizabeths Hospital, a sprawling facility in Anacostia that chiefly serves Washington mental patients, from the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare to the D.C. government.
In the meantime, the document said, federal officials plan to get the hospital reaccredited and to "develop with the District... a long-term financial plan." The hospital's proposed budget for 1980 is $85 million, part of which is reimbursed from patient fees.
Other construction outlays for the region contained in the budget include $37 million for Pennsylvania Avenue redevelopment, $17.8 million for the National Institutes of Health at Bethesda, $8 million for Washington National and Dulles International airports, $10.7 million for Gallaudet College, $10 million for Howard University and $75 million for a new Veterans Administration hospital at Baltimore.