The House District of Columbia Committee approved a $60-million-a-year increase yesterday in the city's federal payment as part of wide-ranging legislation that would represent the largest expansion of D.C. autonomy since Congress granted home rule in 1974.
Under the committee action, the federal government's basic contribution to city operations would rise from $430 million to $490 million in fiscal 1991, which would be the first time the payment has been increased in five years.
The payment bill, approved 9 to 3, also establishes for the first time a formula by which the federal payment would be calculated thereafter, as well as shortening the period in which Congress can review District legislation from 30 days to five days.
In separate action, the committee voted 11 to 1 to establish a Supreme Court for the District and establish four new Superior Court judgeships -- a move designed to reduce the backlog of appellate cases in the D.C. court system.
The bills now go to the full House, which is expected to take them up within two weeks, District Committee staff said. The legislation would then be sent to the Senate, where action this year is considered unlikely given the press of business as the session nears its close.
The federal budget deficit also adds to uncertainty about the fate of the funding measure.
Despite the obstacles, some legislators said the prospects are fairly good for an increased federal payment next year, especially given that Congress will be dealing with a new city administration then. Many members of Congress have been unwilling to approve more money for the District as long as Marion Barry remains mayor, Capitol Hill observers say.
Rep. Ronald V. Dellums (D-Calif.), chairman of the House District Committee, said the committee proposal would provide for a "fair and equitable" federal payment.
Dellums noted that the federal payment has decreased as a percentage of city revenue -- from 20 percent in 1985 to 14 percent in 1990 -- at a time when the District has assumed more responsibilities from the federal government, such as the management of St. Elizabeths Hospital. The overall city budget for 1991 is $3.5 billion.
"In short, we have asked the citizens of D.C. to do many things at once while at the same time decreasing the federal payment, which many persons on both sides of the aisle have agreed is both unfair and unjust," Dellums said.
The only opposition voiced yesterday came from the committee's ranking Republican, Rep. Stan Parris of Virginia, who said the committee should defer action on the federal payment bill until after the city explores ways to reduce its work force.
Parris said it appears the city needs more money, but added, "I can't tell you how much or whether the need rises from miscalculation, overly ambitious programs, a failure to cut outmoded, unneeded and unwanted programs, or other bureaucratic inefficiencies."
Sources said Parris had indicated a willingness to compromise on the issue but became angered when Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D-D.C.), another member of the committee, advocated a commuter tax during his unsuccessful mayoral campaign, a proposal that is anathema to many of his Northern Virginia constituents.
Despite Parris's opposition, Democrats are hopeful of final passage of the bill because they were able to secure the support of the second-ranking Republican, Rep. Thomas J. Bliley Jr. of Virginia.
Bliley was willing to support the measure after Democrats on the committee agreed to make several changes in it, including revising the federal payment formula to provide less money for the District than initially planned. Under the current bill, the federal payment would be fixed at 19.5 percent of local revenue.
The other committee Republicans, Dana Rohrabacher of California and Larry Combest of Texas, voted against the increased federal payment. All the Democrats on the committee voted for the legislation.