The House District of Columbia Appropriations Subcommittee voted yesterday to cut next year's city operating budget by nearly $30 million and to slash the federal payment $53 million below President Carter's recommmendation.
If upheld by both chambers of Congress the action by the panel, headed by Rep. William H. Natcher (D-Ky.) would hold spending for most municipal functions at current levels after Oct. 1, the start ofthe neq fiscal year.
It would freeze all new hiring and prevent the start of new city programs, including the creation of a 50-member civilian corps to writs parking tickets.
Carrying out a warning by Natcher earlier this year to curb abuses, the panel cut $10 million from the city's request of $64.6 million for the fund that pays pensions to police and firefighters retired on disability.
A formal report on the bill, now being drafted, is expected to send city officials a clear message - that the days of congressional acquiescence in rising city budgets are ended.
For city operations in the next fiscal year, the District government requested just under $1.3 billion, which the subcommittee cut by nearly $30 million to $1.27 billion.
The city, with support from President Carter, asked for a federal payment of $317 million as the U.S. government's share of the cost of funning the city. That would be $17 million more than the amount currently authorized by law. The federal payment actually appropriated for the current fiscal year is $276 million.
The subcommittee said the city's budget would be balanced with the lower $264 million federal payment it recommended yesterday, chiefly because the city's own taxes are expected to bring in $31 million more revenue than had been estimated earlier.
The cuts - especially in the federal payment - surprised and angered top city officials and Del. Walter E. Fauntror (D.D.C.) who termed the reductions "an unfortunate case of Proposition 13 mania" and a meat-ax approach to spending cuts. Propositions 13 was the ballot proposal approved in California last week that slashed real estate taxes.
Mayor Walter E. Washington said he was "distressed and disappointed" and declared that the congressional actiona proves the city's need for full control of its budget.
City Council Chairman Sterling Tucker, who is challenging the mayor in the sept 12 Democratic primary, called the proposed cut in the federal payment "intolerable" and said the city will have to fight for approval of more money in the Senate.
Council member Marion Barry (D. At Large) chairman of the council's Finance and Revenue Committee and also a mayoral candidate, sought to put space between himself and his two main rivals.
Saying the city's budgetary "priorities were not right", he declared. "I think it is up to the mayor and Sterling Tucker to find out what to do since its their budget".
Barry was one of the five council members who voted against the mayor's proposed budget last October. Tucker voted for it.
After council approval, the budget was transmitted to the White House, and then through a similar three-step procedure in the Senate.
On Capitol Hill, yesterday's action seems sure to restore Natcher's long-time image as a tough overseer of the city budget.
Last year, he was widely perceived as the citys champion when Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D.Vt.) the new chairman of the Senate D.C. Appropriations Subcommittee, sought to eliminate $27 million requested for a downtown convention center and to cut the federal payment below the level recommended by Natcher.
In the end, the convention center money was approved after a seven-month delay, provided the city meets stiff new requirements set by Congress. Leahy prevailed on the level of the federal payment.
A second-year outlay of $47 million sought for the convention center was knocked out of the budget yesterday, but only because the city will not be able to quickly spend the first-year outlay of $27 million.
The biggest sum cut from the operating budget yesterday was the $10 million from the police and firefighters pension fund.
After three top-ranking officers of the two departments retired on tax free total disability in a matter of two weeks. Natcher called city officials on the carpet and demanded reforms in the way the program is administered.
The formal report on the bill is expected to tell city officials that they can expect the money restored only after reforms are carried out. The effect of the cut on the pension fund was not clear last night.
Another big cut in the city budget was $6 million to hire a corps of civilian parking-ticket writers and hearing officers to take over most parking law enforcement from the police department. The program was expected to increase the city's spendable revenue by anearly $20 million a year.
Subcommittee members eliminated the funds because the program has not been formally suthorized by the City Council. The council voted preliminary approval on Tuesday night, and final enastment is weeks - and perhaps months - in the future.
Congress does not normally appropriate funds for programs, federal or local, that there are not authorized under a seperate law.
For the same reason, the subcommittee eliminated a $1-million outlay to stsart a fund to help low-income residents make down payments on homes. That measure, too, received preliminary approval from the council on Tuesday.
City officials had sought in the budget to add 221 persons to hte municipal payroll, including six for the Minority Business Opportunity Commission, which is supposed to channel city contracts to miniorty contractors: All 221 new jobs were refused.
The subcommittee voted t approve $500,000 for operation of the city's advisory neighbourhood commissions, threatening to revive a controlversy that flared last year. In both .years, the city requested $1 million. last year, the House subcommittee eliminatated all funds, but $500,000 eventually was approved by a House-Senate conference committee.