Mayor Anthony A. Williams has asked President Bush for nearly $700 million of new aid in next year's federal budget, due next week. The mayor is floating a range of ideas: a new permanent federal payment, a waterfront Anacostia "riverwalk" and more residential drug treatment centers.
The wish list is an annual proposition, rarely fulfilled, but is notable because the District enjoyed unusual success at snaring federal help this year.
The mayor's aides do not wish to preempt the Bush administration's plans, whose details will be unveiled shortly. The return of large federal deficits, a struggling national economy, the potential costs of a war in Iraq and the president's proposed $674 billion tax cut also mean that all of Washington is bracing for leaner times.
Still, a comparison between the District's federal budget this year and what it seeks next year provides one yardstick of how the capital city is faring under the Bush administration and what it has at stake if federal purse strings tighten.
As part of the 1997 federal bailout and restructuring of the District, Congress and the president ended the provision of a direct federal payment to the city. Instead, the federal government took over major costs, such as pensions, courts, prisons and some Medicaid expenses. Congress is increasing spending on this share of the District's $5.8 billion budget for such priorities as family court reforms, defender services and parolee supervision, totaling $355 million.
Last year, the District asked for an additional $237 million in federal aid for the fiscal year that began in October.
The president offered $33 million. The money included $17 million to sustain the tuition assistance program that allows thousands of District high school graduates to attend participating colleges and universities across the country at in-state tuition rates, $15 million to compensate the city for the cost of policing major demonstrations, such as the World Bank or antiwar protests, and $1 million to study traffic improvements around the White House in lieu of reopening Pennsylvania Avenue.
When the Senate last week finally approved the D.C. budget, four months into the fiscal year, related grants topped $157 million.
The House differs on the details but not the total, and the outlines seem clear while a closed-door House-Senate conference concludes its work.
The Senate included a new $50 million federal installment for a $1.3 billion overhaul of the District's century-old storm-water drainage system; $20 million for charter schools; $10 million for bioterrorism preparations at local hospitals; $5 million for parks and recreation improvements on the Anacostia River waterfront; and $4 million for family literacy programs.
The Senate also granted $10 million for a new emergency management and public safety unified communication center on the grounds of St. Elizabeth's hospital; $100,000 for Eastern Market; and $3 million for a new forensic medicine laboratory.
After that response, the District is aiming high again.
In a letter sent by Williams to Bush in preparation for the president's 2004 budget, the mayor highlighted $239 million in requests. He also proposed funding mechanisms for a new federal payment that, combined, could bring in $455 million a year.
No one expects that either category will be fully met, but the city's strategy is simple, according to the mayor's office.
"We all know you don't get anything if you don't ask," said Williams spokesman Tony Bullock, who added, "We're realistic in our expectations."
Amy Call, a spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Budget, said she could not comment in detail pending public release of the president's budget. "Certainly, we want to be responsive to the city and we have been working together on a number of issues," she added.
Gregory M. McCarthy, Williams's deputy chief of staff for policy and legislative affairs, said that the president's support for individual projects has moved steadily upward over the last two years.
For the next fiscal year, which starts October 1, 2003, the mayor seeks, among other things:
* $32 million to continue the federal tuition program and protest compensation fund;
* $10 million to create a "riverwalk" of parks along the Anacostia from Hains Point south of the National Mall to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in Northeast;
* $8 million to close a "treatment gap" between city funding and the number of alcohol and drug addicts seeking help;
* An additional $50 million for the ongoing sewer overflow project;
* An additional $56 million for the St. Elizabeths communications center; and
* $75 million more for the forensic lab.
As to the federal payment, the District has reinvigorated calls for an annual supplement to its budget, arguing that it bears the unique burden of providing state and local services to the federal government although it is barred from regular state and local taxing powers, such as taxing the incomes of nonresident commuters.
The short-term outlook is cloudy, McCarthy said. But, he said, "the mayor's job for the next year is to aggressively talk about this issue, boldly, to everyone who will listen."
With no movement on such things as a federal tax credit pegged at the equivalent of a 2 percent income tax on Maryland and Virginia commuters, and "in response to requests for other forms of compensation," the mayor proposed four other options.
"Of greatest priority is compensation for the service demands and unfair restrictions on taxing authority imposed on the District by the federal government," Williams wrote Bush. "They result in local taxpayers assuming the cost of many federal operations."
Increasing the rate at which the federal government reimburses the District for Medicaid expenses -- the program that provides health care to the poor and elderly -- to 75 percent from 70 percent would bring in $75 million. The increase would keep the District below an 83 percent cap and below the rates of West Virginia and Mississippi.
The federal government could use the national highway transportation bill, set to be reauthorized by Congress next year, to subsidize the District's transportation costs by $50 million a year. Williams argued that 70 percent of vehicles in the District during the day bear out-of-District license plates, and the federal government relies on D.C. transportation services.
The government could pay for the District's share of subsidizing Metro, $150 million, because federal employees represent nearly half of peak-hour riders and the system is a key emergency federal evacuation tool. Or the government could make $180 million in payments in lieu of taxes because it occupies 42 percent of District real estate but pays no property tax.