The District government's proposed $4.7 billion spending plan won the backing yesterday of the House Appropriations panel that oversees city affairs, but only after House members moved to add tens of millions of dollars to expand services from drug treatment to adoption.
Missing yesterday was the acrimonious debate that has accompanied consideration of the D.C. budget in recent years, with Democrats and city leaders instead praising Rep. Ernest J. Istook Jr. (R-Okla.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on the District, for accepting most of the suggestions they had made.
"You have been very reasonable and straightforward," Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), the ranking minority member on the panel, told Istook. "This is a bipartisan, constructive bill."
The budget still needs to be voted on by the full Appropriations Committee and by the House, and any changes the House has made must be agreed to by the Senate, which has already approved the city spending plan. But it now appears that with the exception of the proposed additional funding, the District's fiscal 2000 budget will survive with few substantive changes.
The $95 million added yesterday was divided between the District budget itself and the city government functions that are being taken over by the federal government, such as the corrections and court systems. Of the total, about $32.5 million would be redirected from unspent funds within the 1999 budget.
The biggest chunk of the new funding would be used to expand drug treatment and testing for the 30,000 people on parole or probation or awaiting trial in the District. Currently only about 4 percent of D.C. parolees are regularly tested, and city officials suspect that many of them continue to use drugs and in some cases repeatedly commit crimes to support the habit.
A total of $25.2 million was added to the D.C. Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency budget--which is entirely supported by the federal government--to pay for the extra drug treatment and testing and to hire 175 officers and other staff members to crack down on parole and probation violations.
"If they don't keep themselves drug-free, they will not remain free," Istook said.
Other spending endorsed by the panel yesterday included:
* $20 million to allow Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) to offer severance packages to about 1,000 city employees as part of his effort to make the District government more efficient.
* $17 million in tuition support for District youths who attend out-of-state public colleges, allowing them to pay in-state tuition rates.
* $8.5 million to expand city staff to ensure that children in foster care are quickly moved out of the system, largely by finding them permanent adoptive homes.
* $7.5 million in planning funds to start a $130 million project to widen the 14th Street bridge.
* $7 million in extra funding to accommodate an unexpected jump in the District's prison population.
* $5 million to finance a planned Anacostia River cleanup project.
* $3.5 million for a Children's Hospital program that aims to prevent child abuse and neglect among low-income District families.
* $1.2 million for staff to support a new Citizen Complaint Review Board that will consider allegations of police misconduct or excessive use of force.
Democrats and Republicans on the House panel praised the five-year, nearly $300 million package of tax cuts agreed to by Williams and the D.C. Council, but they avoided language that would prevent the District from scaling back the program if revenue falls short.
Moran promised that before the House takes final action on the budget, there will be at least some debate over "social riders" that Republicans attached to the bill yesterday, prohibiting the city from spending money on a needle exchange program, from offering health insurance to domestic partners or from certifying last year's referendum on whether marijuana should be legalized for certain medical treatments.
Each of these items was included in the 1999 budget act, but Moran said he intends to try again this year to get them removed, suggesting that Congress not meddle in District affairs. Moran also said he may move to require that the District agree to allow a prison to be built within the city limits to house some of the low-security prisoners who are leaving the soon-to-be-closed Lorton Correctional Complex in Fairfax County.
CAPTION: Rep. Ernest J. Istook Jr. (R-Okla.) left, chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on the District, listens to Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.)