Congress approved the District's 2006 budget yesterday, including more than $100 million in federal aid that Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) requested for programs such as expanding school choice, paving bike trails and enhancing security.
But what made city leaders happiest was what didn't make it into the measure: a series of proposals that would have weakened or repealed the city's handgun ban.
"This is a victory for home rule," said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the city's nonvoting House representative. "The numerous people who have something to say about this have basically supported our right to decide our own fate through our own laws."
It was the second year in a row the District had to fend off attempts to repeal the handgun ban, which city leaders, including Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, contend reduces crime. But city officials could not quash legislative riders forbidding the city from using its own money for a needle exchange program and to fund abortions for poor women.
Williams said passage of the budget, by 392 votes to 31 in the House and by voice vote in the Senate, was a success because the most onerous measures were stripped from the final version in a House-Senate conference committee. The bill now goes to President Bush for his signature.
The mayor was particularly pleased about $100 million that went to some of his priorities, including $40 million to invest in public schools, expand charter schools and offer scholarships to low-income students. The city will also get $13.5 million for emergency planning and security for major events and $3 million to start building 16 miles of bike paths along the Anacostia River. Another $5 million was set aside for a police forensics lab.
"On key issues, the conferees provided funds," Williams said in a statement. "Elsewhere, they respected home rule and the desires of the people who live here."
One of the biggest winners was the Whitman-Walker Clinic, the region's largest AIDS services provider, which received $650,000 in federal funds. Whitman-Walker reported in June that it would not meet its payroll, in part because of late reimbursements from the city. The clinic plans to move to an electronic system that would allow it to access patient records at all three of its locations and improve the way it tracks patients and bills insurers.
"It's a tremendous help to the clinic," said Roberta Geidner-Antoniotti, Whitman-Walker's interim executive director. "It will help us upgrade our technology to better serve our clients. The clinicians are freed to be more productive. They can see more patients."
Other beneficiaries of the federal money were the Washington Hospital Center ($1 million), the Capital Area Food Bank ($1.3 million) and the D.C. chapter of the Arthritis Foundation ($300,000).
Norton said she was pleased that the District was able to get the money given the fights over tax cuts, budget cuts and Hurricane Katrina relief in Congress. But she was dismayed that the city has to keep fighting attempts to attach ideology-driven proposals to the budget that do not represent the will of residents.
"These repeated attacks are more of an outrage the more often they're done and the more often they prove futile," she said. "It requires a lot of work."