AGAIN THIS month, Congress has rudely reminded the District of Columbia that local self-government has its limits. Both the House and Senate have undercut financial decisions made by the elected city government. The actions order more spending than the mayor and council had agreed to for certain items and less for others. That's still the right of Congress, even though more than 85 percent of the budget comes from locally raised revenues. But whatever the wisdom of each budget decision made by the city government, this second-guessing by Congress squashes the whole process of home rule.
Rep. Stan Parris of Virginia, who has made a career out of kicking the District around, is at it again. Last week the House approved his proposal to cut $1.6 million from the University of the District of Columbia's operating budget. This is roughly the amount that UDC proposes to spend, with money from a bond issue, to house an artwork titled "The Dinner Party" by Judy Chicago. UDC's decision was certainly wrongheaded, but docking operating funds and reversing decisions -- including even those that local decision-makers should recognize as being wrong -- is not an orderly process for a municipal government or local agencies.
The House also dictated that the city conduct an environmental impact study of its planned expansion of the landfill at Lorton -- which is on D.C. property in Mr. Parris's district. A Senate committee has cut the money the House wants to provide for this, but if the House prevails, the effect will be to delay the project, which costs more money. Further, the House voted a ban on financing for the "representative" and two "senators" that voters will be electing this fall -- though the current D.C. budget doesn't include any money for them anyway. Senate members have been having their fun too. A subcommittee voted to require new, tough sentences for drug and handgun offenses, and added money for teacher salaries and to boost the court system budget.
All of this will be traded around and settled eventually in a House-Senate conference and then subject to a possible veto by President Bush if something in the local budget -- such as the spending of local money for abortions -- doesn't suit him. It is a disorderly, inefficient way to finance the government of this city and an affront to home rule. The elected government should have the authority to approve its own budget -- and make it stick.