House and Senate conferees hammered out a final version of the District of Columbia's 1983 spending bill yesterday, including a requirement that the city set aside $20 million to help retire its long-term debt--$17.1 million more than city officials had planned.
The hefty increase ordered in the debt-retirement fund could substantially add to the financial woes of Mayor Marion Barry's administration, which already is struggling to avert a projected $110 million shortfall in 1983 caused by declining revenues and increased spending.
The action came at the same time that Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato (R-N.Y.), chairman of the D.C. appropriations subcommittee and a strong ally of the District on most budgetary and home rule issues, announced he would give up the chairmanship to take another committee assignment.
D'Amato, a conservative Republican who unseated former Sen. Jacob Javits in 1980, will be replaced as subcommittee chairman next month by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), a former Philadelphia district attorney also elected in 1980.
Specter, 52, lives in a condominium apartment in Georgetown and is a member of the Appropriations, Judiciary and Veterans' Affairs committees. He said yesterday that he, like D'Amato, favors stronger measures to crack down on crime and believes that Congress should meddle as little as possible in city affairs.
"I'm very much in favor of home rule," said Specter, who helped defeat a proposal last week to prevent Washington's new Convention Center from competing with other metropolitan area centers for sporting events and concerts.
"But there are some issues that involve the federal government from time to time that must be looked at from a national viewpoint," he added, mentioning as an example the regulation of foreign chanceries.
The fiscal 1983 D.C. spending bill approved yesterday by the House and Senate conferees totals about $2 billion, including a $361 million federal payment requested by the city, $24 million more than last year's payment.
The measure also includes $3.1 million in additional federal funds to finance special anticrime and public safety initiatives proposed by D'Amato and other federal and local law enforcement officials.
The funds will be used to buy 210 portable radios and an automated fingerprint identification system for the Metropolitan Police Department and to hire 22 new assistant U.S. attorneys to prosecute criminal cases in D.C. Superior Court.
The conferees agreed to raise a federal cap on salaries for City Administrator Elijah B. Rogers, who is expected to leave his post early next year, and other high-ranking city officials. The city administrator's salary could rise from $58,500 to $63,800 a year under the new cap.
The bill had been delayed in Congress by a dispute over proposed restrictions on the use of the Convention Center. The restrictions were added to the spending bill in committee but eventually removed on the floor of both houses.
While Senate conferees prevailed in many of the disagreements over the new spending bill, they went along with House members in insisting that the District set aside $20 million this year to help retire the city's debt, which currently totals $309 million.
The mayor originally proposed earmarking $16.5 million to reduce the debt but later went along with the City Council's election-year plan to spend more for public education and set aside only $2.9 million for debt retirement.
"I can't tell you whether it the new debt-retirement fund requirement will give me any problems until I finish my analysis in January," said D.C. Budget Director Gladys W. Mack. "The important thing about getting the budget approved by the conferees is we now know what the fiscal 1983 budget will look like." graphics /photo: SEN. ALFONSE D'AMATO ...gives up subcommittee chairmanship