The Senate Appropriations Committee voted yesterday to scale back the size of pay raises for D.C. Council members from 15.6 percent to 5 percent, a decision that locally elected officials decried as an "extraordinary" violation of home rule.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) said it was wrong for D.C. Council members to boost their pay from $80,000 to $92,500 when they are allowed to earn outside income from other jobs. Hutchison said the Senate panel did not reduce the pay increase of D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D)--whose salary level was raised from $90,000 to $102,000--because as chairman, she is not permitted to hold another job.
Although the Senate panel endorsed most of the District's $4.7 billion consensus budget yesterday, including the largest tax cut in the city's history, Hutchison characterized the pay increase for council members as "excessive," given that federal pay raises are 3 to 4 percent. Hutchison said she was trying to balance her respect for self-government with her duty to oversee the capital city.
"We are trying very hard to strike a balance," said Hutchison, chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on the District. "We tried to be reasonable."
D.C. Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4) said the Senate has no business second-guessing locally elected officials on pay raises.
"It is an extraordinary, punitive, illogical, power-based interference with salaries that have gone through a legislative process, Jarvis said.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said the Senate should have left the question of pay raises up to D.C. residents, who always have the option of voting local officials out of office.
"The people of the District of Columbia know how to take care of pay raises if they think they are excessive," Norton said.
Paul Strauss (D), who serves in an unpaid, nonvoting capacity as a D.C. shadow senator, shook his head in disbelief at the senators' action. And D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) also voiced objection to the senators' decision to roll back pay increases adopted earlier this year.
"We ought to leave that up to the voters," the mayor said.
In addition to slashing the pay level for D.C. Council members, the Senate Appropriations Committee made other changes in the city's budget for the fiscal year that will begin Oct. 1. Hutchison said $5.8 million in federal funds was added for increased drug testing of individuals on probation or supervised release from prison. And $1 million was shifted from the federally funded D.C. courts' budget to the D.C. police to fight open-air drug markets.
Although Williams was ordered to pay a $1,000 civil fine this week for failing to make timely disclosure of outside income he received during the mayor's race last year, he continues to be held in high regard on Capitol Hill, where former mayor Marion Barry was viewed with considerable disdain.
"The District of Columbia has a new mayor, thank God," said Sen. Robert C. Byrd (W.Va.), the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.
After Hutchison consulted with Williams and D.C. financial control board Chairman Alice M. Rivlin this week, the Texas senator came up with other changes in the city's budget that the Senate panel approved yesterday. Hutchison said her new financial plan is designed to encourage the city to pay down its hefty debt more rapidly and to provide flexibility for spending in the event of future budget surpluses.
City officials had asked the Senate to allow them to spend $150 million in a reserve fund, but Hutchison said the money in that "rainy day" fund should be used only in an emergency. Hutchison's plan also would require the city to maintain a 4 percent positive fund balance at the end of each fiscal year. However, Hutchison would allow the city to use any surplus in excess of 4 percent for one-time expenditures and debt repayment.
In the past, the city has not been permitted to spend any part of a budget surplus. Based on current projections, Hutchison said, her plan would give District officials about $100 million in additional funds to spend next year. Hutchison predicted that the revised budget would lower the city's borrowing costs by improving its credit rating, but Jarvis offered another view.
"It is simply the substitution of one elected official's view, who has greater power, for that of other elected officials that have the responsibility for local governance," Jarvis said.
The bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee also would provide $17 million for a new program that would enable high school graduates who live in the District to attend colleges across the country at in-state tuition rates, which are thousands of dollars lower than out-of-state rates. But Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said he will propose an amendment on the Senate floor to oppose the college tuition plan unless D.C. officials back away from a broad-based local income and commercial property tax cut. He said the District is a dangerous city with shoddy services that should not be implementing the first phase of a nearly $300 million tax cut next year.
"The bottom line is, people in this city need protection from crime," Durbin said.
Norton was dismayed that Durbin, the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations subcommittee, would oppose a program to enable more high school graduates to afford college. She said the White House and a bipartisan group of legislators in the House and the Senate support the education initiative.
"I'm shocked and amazed that some of our own friends would try to take out money the president had specifically put in for us," Norton said.