District of Columbia officials and Senate-House conferees have reached a compromise that paves the way for a record $361 million U.S. payment to the city and heads off a confrontation over how the city must shore up its pension fund.
The House, acting on an amendment offered last month by Rep. Stanford Parris (R-Va.), had ordered the city to use $14.3 million of the fiscal 1983 U.S. payment to buttress the pension fund for retired teachers, firefighters and police.
That action marked the first time Congress had imposed a restriction at that stage of the budget process on the way the city may use the U.S. funds it receives as compensation for taxes it loses and extra costs it incurs as the seat of the government.
City officials -- who often are in a tug-of-war with Congress over the budget process -- branded the action as a swipe at the city's home-rule powers. The officials said the $14.3 million lump sum pension payment would seriously disrupt the city's plans for allocating the federal funds.
On Tuesday, Mayor Marion Barry visited Parris on Capitol Hill to find an alternative that would satisfy the congressman's desire that the pension fund be protected and at the same time satisfy the city's concern over home rule, Parris said yesterday.
That discussion brought an agreement that the city would pay the pension fund $14.3 million over a three-year period, plus $1.4 million in interest.
However, the funds would not be earmarked from the federal payment itself, but instead be part of the District of Columbia's budget.
Frank Higgins, chairman of the D.C. employe retirement board, and the mayor signed the agreement after the meeting and the conferees approved it last night.
The agreement also would give the pension board more flexibility in preparing its annual budget by allowing it for the first time to seek supplemental appropriations.
The agreement must receive final approval from the House and Senate, but Parris said yesterday that "I don't anticipate any controversy; everyone has agreed."
Parris said he felt the original order to earmark funds put the city on notice that when the city and Congress disagree, "Congress will rise like a sleeping bear, and sometimes, will bite."