Like the innocent who is invited to a fancy restaurant and then gets stuck with the bill, the District of Columbia may find itself left with a $1.4 million tab from President-elect Jimmy Carter's inauguration.
As the host city, the District has to pay for such extra items as trash collection, overtime for police and firemen, traffic signs and medical assistance. In the past, before home rule, these expenses (about $600,000 in 1969 and $800,000 in 1973) were taken care of through specific allocations in the appropriation doled out to the city by Congress, explained city budget director Comer S. Coppie.
In the home rule charter, there is a section that reads: "The United States shall reimburse the District of Columbia for necessary expenses incurred by the District in connection with assemblages, marches, and other demonstrations in the District of Columbia which relate primarily to the federal government."
Coppie said the city is taking the position that the inauguration of a president fits into that category.
The Office of Management and Budget according to spokesman Dan McGurk, takes the position the celebration does not.
"The inauguration occurs every four years," McGurk said, "It's not like a riot. They should have planned for it in their budget."
"The mayor wrote (budget director James T.) Lynn last April stating our position," Coppie said. "We followed that up with three other letters providing additional information and not one has been responded to. They didn't even have the courtesy to respond to the mayor's letter."
"We have not written a formal letter," McGurk agreed, "But we called them up several times. That's the way we do things."
"No so," Coppie responded.
At this point, Coppie said the city has no assurance it will be reimbursed its $1.4 million, and can only wait for the new administration to take power and appeal to budget director designate Bert Lance. No one at the budget transition office could be reached for comment last night.
Inaugural Committee co-chairperson Bardyl Tirana, a former city school board member and long-time D.C. resident, said "it's a question that has never really been raised before, because the home rule charter does not specifically deal with it and neither has the D.C. government, the City Council or the OMB."
On the one hand, he said, the inauguration clearly fits the reimbursement guidelines. On the other hand, the city should not expect to both collect taxes on the nonprofit, independently incorporated inaugural committee's activities and expect total reimbursement for its expenses, as they are doing.
"I would say the inauguration is somewhat similar to the Bicentennial celebrations here, for which the city was reimbursed," Tirana said. "But D.C. is in a bit of an inconsistent position to collec sales and use taxes - $30,000 on the construction of the reviewing stands alone - and ask for [WORD ILLEGIBLE]
He sent information on the situation to the budget transition office this week, but neither expected nor received a response. "There's too much going on over there," he said.
"Reasonable people can come to a different conclusion on the issue," he concluded.