In approving a record $1.4 billion budget to run the District of Columbia government next year, a House subcommittee yesterday moved the city a step closer to building a $119-million downtown convention center while it gutted money to run Washington's 36 advisory neighborhood commissions.
The House District Appropriations Subcommittee's decision to climinate the $1 million from the city's proposed budget for the neighborhood commissions - Washington's experiment in bringing its government closer to residents - apparently stemmed from a lukewarm endorsement of the funding by a spokesman for Mayor Walter E. Washington at a budget hearing last April.
Nonetheless, the subcommittee's action on the advisory neighborhood commissions - usually called ANCs - brought swift and angry protests from Mayor Washington. City Council member Marion S. Barry (D-at large) and several of the elected commissioners themselves.
Yesterday's subcommittee actions were far from being final. They must be ratified by the full House Appropriations Committee and by the House itself. Then the city's budget must go through a similar three-step process in the Senate.
"I am certainly going to be calling a citywide ANC meeting so we can get to the Senate," said Charles Richardson, chairman of an unofficial group of ANC leaders.
Approval of the convention center by the subcommittee was expected, since the $110-million project had been strongly endorsed by Rep. William H. Natcher (D-Ky.), whose decisions as subcommittee chairman are rarely challenged by his colleagues.
There was no specific vote on the convention center item. The five subcommittee members present simply consented to its approval.
The action was taken despite a last ditch protest from a coalition of citizen groups and a renewed attack on the controversial project by one subcommittee member. Rep. Gunn McKay (D-Utah), who did not move to block it.
McKay said he would explain his opposition in a statement he will attach to the subcommittee's official report to the House.
The decision to cut all funding for the ANCs was unanimous, and was done with little explanation by subcommittee members.
When he reached the item on a long list of budget proposals, Natcher said briskly, "I recommend that we drop it out. Any discussion?"
Rep. Clair W. Burgener of California, the panel's senior Republican, who had questioned the worth of the ANC's at the hearing in April, said the ANCs form a needless extra layer of government. Natcher agreed.
At the April hearing, Mayor Washington was represented by Martin K. Schaller, his executive secretary. After listening to a description of the ANC role, Burgener asked Schaller whether he felt the commissions, which were created as part of the District's Home Rule Charter that went into effect in 1975, should be continued.
"I am afraid I really couldn't answer that, Mr. Burgener," Schaller replied. "The ANCs (are) created by statute. I am not yet convinced how important they may or may not be. They have only been in office about a year and a half."
"It's probably too early to evaluate," Burgener said.
"Some of them are very disappointing," Schaller continued. "But I would say that some of the (ANC) districts are very successful and are really very aggressive . . ."
Although Mayor Washington has been accused by many ANC members of ignoring them, he recently met with them at a meeting that resembled a love feast. Yesterday the mayor's press spokesman, Sam Eastman, said Washington was "deeply concerned and hopes the money will be restored in the House," making a Senate appeal unncessary.
Barry said ANCs, far from being another layer of bureaucracy, are "another layer of democracy. ANC members are often our most concerned citizens, consistently investigating issues, proposing policy and obtaining results . . ."
The $27 million approved yesterday for the convention center would be borrowed from the U.S. Treasury, and would be borrowed from the U.S. Treasury, and would be used to plan the center and start buying its site. A three-block area has been proposed on the south side of New York Avenue NW, between 9th and 11th Streets, in the seedy Mount Vernon Square area.
In other items yesterday, the subcommittee approved the city's proposal for a new office building to cost $35 million at 3rd and D Streets NW, in Judiciary Square, and refused to approve the city's proposal to reduce the Metropolitan Police Department by 186 uniformed officers. The subcommittee added $1.2 million to the proposed police budget to keep uniformed strength at 4,141.