IF THE HOUSE Appropriations Committee follows the course of the D.C. appropriations subcommittee when it takes up the District's fiscal year 2000 budget today, the city's consensus budget will pass pretty much intact. Unfortunately, unless efforts to remove them are successful today, the budget also will contain riders that mock home rule.
Ironically, there is much in the subcommittee's bill to like. The panel, chaired by Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.), was supportive of the city in several ways. On a bipartisan basis, subcommittee members backed the District's proposed $4.7 billion spending plan containing a balanced budget and the historic tax reduction package.
Reflecting renewed confidence in city hall, the subcommittee also included additional funding for several important programs, including $25.2 million to the federal Corrections Trustee's budget to expand drug testing and treatment programs for parolees and probationers, $20 million to allow the mayor to offer severance packages to 1,000 city workers, $17 million for a tuition support program for city youth (by way of full disclosure: this is a program strongly advocated to Congress by Post publisher Donald Graham), $8.5 million to beef up staff for the foster care program, and more money for capital projects and a new Citizen Complaint Review Board. Regrettably, the subcommittee didn't stop there.
The bill before the Appropriations Committee also contains riders prohibiting the city from spending its own money on abortions or an AIDS prevention needle exchange program. Riders also prevent the city from certifying last year's referendum on legalizing marijuana for certain medical treatments, offering health insurance to domestic partners, or using city funds to sue tobacco companies.
Congressionally imposed "social riders" have no place on a District of Columbia budget. The District's elected leaders are best situated to know what their constituents want. Besides, the mayor and council, not members of Congress, should decide how locally raised District tax dollars are spent. The committee can and should make the subcommittee's bill better by removing all "social riders."