After coming halfway to the rescue of the city's advisory neighborhood commissions, the Senate District Appropriations Subcommittee took several steps yesterday to tighten management of the city's spending programs.
Following its agreement to restore $500,000 of the $1 million that was eliminated Thursday for the neighborhood commission by the House Appropriations Committee, the Senate unit decided on these actions to control spending:
It voted to require an estimated 17,000 school pupils who now get free Metrobus rides to pay a 10-cent fare for each trip. The proposed new rule would apply only to pupils who are given bus tokens free because they live more than 1 1/2 miles from their schools. Those who live closer already pay.
It rejected the city's request for $27 million to start work on a $110 million convention center near Mount Vernon Square, just north of downtown.
It cut the federal payment to the city for the 1978 fiscal year by $24 million below the $300 million requested by city officials, stirring an angry reaction at the District Building.
It told the University of the District of Columbia, newly formed by the merger of three city-supported institutions of higher learning, that it cannot spend any of a $57.7 million construction fund for new buildings at its proposed Mount Vernon Square campus until it submits a master plan to Congress. The subcommittee said it feared the campus might be "overbuilt.
[TEXT OMMITTED FROM SOURCE]It decided to create a new fund intended to pay off $19.8 million of Robert F. Kennedy Stadium bonds that will fall due in 1979, and it voted to put $9.9 million into that fund in the coming fiscal year.
It agreed with the city government's proposal to cut the size of the Metropolitan Police Department by 186 uniformed officers, directly challenging a House Appropriations Committee decision to keep the force at its current level of 4,141.
While the slash of the U.S. payment to $176 million resulted largely from a new forecast of increased city tax revenues, the series of other actions yesterday put the imprint of the fiscally conservative Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) on the budget.
The 37-year-old Leahy is serving his first year as the subcommittee chairman.
By its timing, yesterday's Senate subcommittee action added to the confusion of anyone trying to keep track of the District budget's path through the complicated congressional machinery.
Ordinarily, the House acts first, completing all action and sending its version of the city budget to the Senate. Over the years, the Senate has acted as a sort of "court of appeals" for city request to restore items eliminated or reduced by the House.
This year, however, procedural delays have led both chambers to act upon their different versions of the same document almost simultaneously. Both are trying to meet a newly established deadline for enactment of all appropriations bills by this month.
Hence, the House Appropriations Committee voted on Thursday to endorse a version of the city budget that differs markedly from the version endorsed yesterday by the Senate subcommittee. Both versions require floor action and an ultimate compromise by a joint conference committee.
Rep. William H. Natcher (D-Ky.), chairman of the Senate District Appropriations Subcommittee, blamed the delays on the city's budget procedures and the White House's Office of Management and Budget. He said the final proposals did not reach him from OMB until July.
In total dollars, the House and Senate versions of the budget are not radically different. The House committee version calls for $1.4 billion, while the Senate subcommittee cut this by $61 million to just over $1.3 billion.
Over many decades, conflicts between the city and Congress over the municipal budget have centered on the amount of the federal payment - the money Congress appropriates chiefly to compensate the city for the loss of income from untaxed federal properties. This closes the gap between city tax revenues and operating costs.
The maximum authorized by law is $300 million, and the city sought the entire amount. The House committee agreed to $296.4 million.
However, the Senate subcommittee took advantage of a newly released forecast that the city's tax revenues would increase next year by $16.6 million, and that some other sources of municipal revenue - including the collection of parking tickets - would be more lucrative than expected.
This, a subcommittee document explained, will "permit the . . . 1978 federal payment to be maintained at the . . . 1977 level" of $276 million.
The proposed cut brought an angry reaction at the District Building Mayor Walter E. Washington called it "very unfortunate . . . it appears to be an effort to shift much of the federal government's obligation to local residents."
Marion Barry Jr., chairman of the D.C. City Council's finance and revenue committee, who has been leading a campaign to double the federal payment, charged that the city is being penalized for more efficient collection of revenue. "I wish the overlords on the (Capitol) Hill would get off our back," he said.
Leahy, explaining his actions at a news conference, said he must "represent not only the taxpayers in the District of Columbia but also the taxpayers in the rest of the country," who must contribute to the federal payment.
In one of yesterday's actions, the Senate subcommittee approved the $56.7 million fund sought for construction of the D.C. university's new campus at Mount Vernon Square, but it said the money cannot be spent until the mayor, the City Council and the committees approve a master plan.
The $56.7 million funding represents a sharp cut from the university's earlier $115 million plan for the campus based upon lowered enrollment projects.
Ronald Brown, chairman of the university's board of trustees, said he was "not unduly alarmed" by the Senate action, since a master plan for the reduced facilities already had been prepared.