A House-Senate conference committee sliced another $3 million off the federal payment to the District of Columbia yesterday. The payment approved for 1979 of $235 million, represents the smallest U.S. share of the city budget since 1967.
The conferees also agreed on stern new rules restricting the D.C. City Council's participation in the federal jobs program financed under the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA). They set a $15,000 lid on salaries, and approved restrictions that may force the council to fire 41 CETA workers assigned to its committee staffs.
The conferees set the lower federal payment after trimming about $3 million off the Senate version of the city's operating budget, putting it at $1,285,102,700. The federal payment will pay for 18.3 percent of the total. Another $77,215,000 in spending was approved for construction projects.
In contrast to last year, when the conferees were deadlocked for seven months over financing for the city's proposed convention center, it took just 39 minutes yesterday to reach agreement.
". . . The best interests of the city are not necessarily the result," D.C. Mayor Walter E. Washington said in a statement issued later. "Our home rule authority is particularly eroded when Congress reorganizes city agencies through funding denials or through moving funds to other agencies as they have in this case."
For most city residents, the local government will seem to operate normally under the new budget, but they will be paying a larger share of the costs through local taxation and fees.
Marion Barry (D-At Large), chairman of the City Council's finance and revenue committee and a mayoral candidate, said the difference will total $54.29 for every adult and child is the city when compared with the 1978 federal payment of $276 million.
What the House and Senate D.C. appropriations subcommittees did was to balance the budget by cutting the city's proposed spending and adopting higher forecasts of revenue than those submitted by the city.
If those revenue forecasts prove too low, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D. Vt.), the Senate's D.C. budget chairman, said he would recommend an increase in the federal payment later.
The city already has proposed to add $26.3 million as a supplement to the 1979 budget, and it would have to be financed by such an increase. The added city spending would include the start of a rent subsidy program for low-income people that was authorized as part of the new rent-control law.
In sending the District budget to Congress, President Carter recommended a federal payment of $317 million. Rep. William H. Natcher (D-Ky.), whose House subcommittee acted first on the new budget, cut the spending enough to reduce the payment to $264 million.
Although it added to $40 million to the budget, the Senate managed to slice the payment to $238 million by including the forecasts of higher city revenues.