DISTRICT LEADERS have good reason to hope that the fiscal 2006 budget bill approved last week by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the District prevails over the House-passed measure in conference. The Senate bill contains much of what the city wants, but without the onerous rider added by the House that would weaken the District's gun safety laws. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), chairman of the subcommittee, and ranking Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) were praised by Mayor Anthony A. Williams for coming through with money while respecting home rule and the desires of city residents. The kudos are well-deserved.
The Senate bill gives the District long-sought authority to spend incoming revenue during midyear without trudging back to Capitol Hill for approval in the form of a federal supplement. This is an important advance toward full budget autonomy and the kind of flexibility that local leaders must have to successfully manage the city's fiscal affairs. Also to his credit, Mr. Brownback decided against attaching a provision expanding the federal voucher program, choosing instead to conduct public hearings later in the year, when the idea could be properly vetted.
In addition to federally funding several projects to the tune of $593 million, including the highly successful tuition aid program, which sends thousands of D.C. residents to college, the Senate committee approved appropriations for mayoral priorities such as:
* $5 million to clean up and restore the Anacostia River;
* $13 million for D.C. public school capital improvements, $13 million for charter schools, and $14 million for school vouchers;
* $5 million for a new forensics laboratory; and
* $3 million to help former inmates to find housing.
Most eye-catching was a committee-approved Brownback initiative that federally funds "marriage development accounts," a program to promote and save marriages in the city through financial incentives and voluntary marriage and relationship counseling. Under the senator's plan, The Post's Spencer S. Hsu reports, D.C. couples who create savings accounts to buy a home, start a business or send a child to college will receive a matching federal contribution of $3 for every $1 they invest, up to a maximum lifetime payment of $9,000. The couple would have to withdraw the money within three years and be married by that time. Reportedly, this plan will mark the first such use of federal funds in the country.
The concern for children raised in households without the presence of loving, bonded adults is legitimate. Whether using matched savings will change the marriage rate among the city's low-income residents remains to be seen. If approved by both houses and signed by the president, this will be a federal initiative that many in the Washington area -- as well as the nation -- will follow with keen interest.