The House of Representatives voted yesterday to drop proposed restrictions on the use of Washington's new convention center, but the disputed proposal apparently still will delay passage of the city's $1.9 billion appropriations bill.
Unless the matter can be resolved before Congress leaves tonight on a 1 1/2-month recess, the city will have to continue operating at spending levels in its current budget. That will mean that the D.C. Board of Education will have to indefinitely postpone hiring 275 additional teachers, which was scheduled to begin today with funds contained in the pending budget bill.
"This means we have to operate on the basis of our fiscal 1982 budget and the $42 million increase we had planned for will have to be delayed," explained Arthur G. Hawkins, the school system's associate superintendent for financial management.
None of the new teaching positions has been filled yet, according to Hawkins. The planned hirings would reduce the pupil-teacher ratio in elementary schools from 28 to 1 to 25 to 1, and in junior and senior high schools from 28 to 1 to 26 to 1, according to Hawkins.
The additional funds also were to be used to hire teachers' aides, to buy new computer equipment and buses and to restore driver education classes.
The House approved its version of the D.C. spending bill by voice vote yesterday after deleting the restrictions on the convention center at the urging of D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy and Rep. Stewart McKinney (R-Conn), who argued that the restrictive language violated House rules.
The restrictions, which were sought by Capital Centre owner Abe Pollin and Maryland officials, are still included in the Senate version of the D.C. spending bill. Sen. Thomas Eagleton (D-Mo), a ranking member of the Appropriations Committee who opposes the restrictions, has blocked a Senate vote on the spending bill until the convention center dispute can be resolved.
A legislative aide to Eagleton said yesterday that the senator has not ruled out the possibility he can work out a compromise before Congress leaves town. "But it's doubtful," the aide added.
The controversial restrictions were added to the D.C. legislation by the House and Senate appropriations committees, whose members contended that it was the intent of Congress that the convention center be limited to booking conventions and trade shows, and not compete with existing facilties.
Yesterday, Fauntroy persuaded the presiding officer of the House to strike the language after arguing that the restrictions constituted authorizing legislation that should not be attached to an appropriations bill under House rules.
"It changes existing law in fundamental ways, yet there has been no opportunity for congressional committee hearings," Fauntroy said.
McKinney, the ranking Republican on the House District of Columbia Committee, staunchly disputed contentions that the proposed restrictions reflected the long-term intent of Congress. "There is no basis in the record for that conclusion," he said, describing the proposal as an unwarranted infringement on the city's home rule charter.
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) failed in an effort to amend the spending bill on the floor with a compromise that he and Mayor Marion Barry hammered out Wednesday night.
That compromise would have prevented the convention center from booking professional sporting events and concerts, but not entertainment for charitable or educational purposes. Fauntroy and McKinney opposed the compromise, and it also was ruled in violation of House rules.
After the vote, Barry said that Hoyer's amemdment might eventually serve as the basis for a compromise between House and Senate conferees in reaching agreement on the appropriations bill. "I'm opposed to any language on any bill that takes rights away from us," Barry said. "On the other hand, I'm a practical realist, and I didn't want a whole appropriations bill to be jeopardized by this dispute."
The House yesterday deleted two other sections from the bill that would have lifted caps on the salaries of some of the mayor's top aides, including City Administrator Elijah B. Rogers. Rogers currently is paid $59,000 a year, which is far below the salaries of top administrators in Montgomery and Fairfax counties.