Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) is right that the District should contribute toward the generous D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant (TAG) Program [Metro, Sept. 22]. Currently, the District contributes nothing toward a program that provides subsidized higher-education opportunities to its residents far exceeding those afforded residents in any state. This overindulgence helps facilitate the District's chronically poor fiscal judgments.
Like people, governments don't fully value free rides. This helps explain why the District's mayor pledges tax revenue for a baseball stadium but resists spending resources to support TAG. Debt service to finance the construction of a baseball stadium could cost $24 million annually. In contrast, Congress appropriated TAG $17 million in its fiscal 2004 budget for the District.
As the District's surrogate state, the federal government should absorb the lion's share of TAG's costs. However, as a native Washingtonian and one who helped create the program, I believe the District would be more vested in TAG's success if it contributed toward the program's costs. Requiring the District to foot the bill for TAG's administrative costs (7 percent) would be an appropriate step.
The writer was the District's deputy chief financial officer and budget director from September 2000 to November 2001. He is a senior scholar with the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education.