The Senate Appropriations Committee has slashed $38.4 million from the District government's construction spending program for this year, including all funds for the Inner Loop Freeway, a new Anacostia police substation and paving of the streets of Fort Lincoln.
The committee said in a report that it took the action because the city "could not or would not supply" legally required information that the panel requested.
Also cut was all money for roadside tree-planting and trimming, all money to repave South Capitol Street, and all money to replace the Engine Company 26 fire station at Rhode Island Avenue and Thayer Street NW. Some of the funds could be restored in November when House and Senate conferees work out the final version of the city's budget for the 1981 fiscal year, but the Senate committee clearly intended the cuts as a stern rebuke to the city and most of them are expected to stand, sources on Capitol Hill said.
The Appropriations Committee acted last month, during its review of the city's overall spending program for the budget year that started on Wednesday. But the cuts attracted little attention because public scrutiny of the budget traditionally concentrates on operating funds -- mostly salaries -- instead of on capital projects. If the reductions stand when Congress completes work on the budget, they could actually cost the city much more because some of the money cut out, especially in the Department of Transportation, would have been doubled or tripled by matching federal grants, city officials said.
But the senators were less concerned with the money than they were with "teaching the city a lesson" about its budget procedures, sources on the Hill said.
The committee members are said to have been irked by what they perceived as the city government's cavalier approach to the entire capital budget process.
First the committee found itself obliged to include authorization to spend $60 million in transportation construction funds that were actually laid out over the past 16 years but never accounted for -- an untidy procedure that the committee approved only because the city's auditors said it was necessary to clean up the books.
Then the members were suspicious because only a few months ago Mayor Marion Barry offered to trade $45 million in construction authorization for $45 million in new operating funds, raising doubt about the importance of the construction projects. And finally the senators were irked by the city's refusal or inability to supply capital budget information that is required by the city's Home Rule Charter.
In a report to the full Senate, the Appropriations Committee noted that "The Fiscal Year 1981 budget for the District of Columbia did not include the detailed 6-year capital improvements program description, a document required by the Home Rule Charter." Since the city also "could not or would not supply" a listing of all the proposed projects in order of priority, the report said, the committee had to make its decisions "with limited information."
"I don't understand the statement that we didn't supply the information that was requested," District budget director Gladys Mack said yesterday. "We were asked to give a priority listing from 1 to 75, and we said it can't be done that way. It's like having to choose between your heart and your brain. It's not relevant to list the capital needs of the city that way."
What she did instead was divide all the projects in the proposed $256.4-million capital program into five "categories" -- Revenue Producing, Statutory/Code Requirements, Basic Facility Improvements, Efficiency Improvements, and Program Space Improvements.
The committee's response was to approve almost everything in the first three categories and deny almost everything in the last two, except for the new crosstown watermain and improvements at the Lorton Reformatory.
This approach sacrificed programs to which the committee had no particular objection on their merits, but Senate sources said the city could try to trade some of the projects that were cut for some that were approved.
The major cuts included: $10.8 million for paving and grading streets at the Fort Lincoln new town and for master utility connections there; $5.3 million for a new 7th District police station house in Anacostia, to replace the crumbling apartment building now used on Mississippi Avenue SE; $2.2 million for extension of the Center Leg of the Inner Loop Freeway to New York Avenue NW; $5.6 million for additions to the ambulatory care center at D.C. General Hospital; $611,000 to repave South Capital Street from the bridge to the Maryland state line; and $363,900 for "roadside improvements," or treeplanting and trimming.
Mack said the city "will appeal for the restoration in conference of every project that was approved by the House and not by the Senate."