IN A ROYAL gesture, the good and kind kings of the House District Approprations subcommittee have wiped out the city's budget for starting a lottery and offered to compensate for the loss of lottery revenues by increasing the federal payment to the city. This grand act was taken by the subcommittee because, as Rep. William Lehman (D-Fla.) put it: "I don't think it will add anything to . . . the quality of life here." All District residents will be so glad to hear that the congressman is more concerned about their welfare than the welfare of his own constituents who must live in a state where gambling flourishes, even in forms rejected as too sordid by District voters, such as dog racing and jai alai. Rep. Lawrence Caughlin, Republican congressman from Pennsylvania, a state with a legal lottery, also voices opposition to starting a lottery here on the ground that it would degrade the nation's capital.
The congressmen's unique, if hypocritical, concern for the District is not the only reason to question the value of their magnanimous offer to replace the money that would be lost by not having a lottery. The House Appropriatioins Committee is not the place where Congress is supposed to challenge a District law. That action, when necessary, is intended to take place in the House Committee on the District. The Appropriations Committee is meant to review the city budget to ensure that the city is not being financially mismanaged. But the $628,000 appropriation to start a lottery here is not being questioned on financial grounds or as a misplaced city priority. The budget presented to the congressment is a balanced budget with essential city services funded. The money is being taken from the budget by the subcommittee only on "moral" grounds.
When the citizens of the District of Columbia voted in referendum to have a lottery, having earlier rejected the idea of a lottery with dog racing and jai alai attached to it, it still had to get past Congress before it could become city law. There were resolutions of disapproval of the legalization of gambling in the District introduced in both the House and the Senate. But the committees that deal directly with the city's laws chose to take no action on those resolutions, allowing the law to go into effect. That is why the city budgeted funds for starting a lottery. Now the Appropriations subcommittee would jump the tracks to stop the lottery. Its action manifests a high-handed disdain not only for the city's democratic processes but also for Congress and its procedure for dealing with the District.
A footnote: by attempting to stop the lottery, the committee has removed $25 million in anticipated revenue from the 1983 city budget. To compensate for that loss, the committee proposes to raise the federal payment by $20 million. But by working to unbalance the city budget, instead of making sure that the city budget is balanced, the committee has confounded its own mandate. On every front, the subcommittee's members come across as sore losers.