IF THE DISTRICT government were just an agency of the federal government, then the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the District would be right to cut the city budget by $33 million. But the subcommittee's cut Wednesday of the city's request for a full federal payment was not a matter of one more cut in an agency budget as the national government tightens the budget. The subcommittee's cut amounted to the federal government's deciding not to pay its fair share of an equivalent to a city tax.
Rep. Carl D. Pursell (R-Mich.) has justified the cuts in the federal payment by saying that the city's budget reduction is not as large as some cuts faced by government agencies. His logic is tangled. The federal government's payment to the District is not another appropriation to an agency in which the amount is determined by how much the federal government can afford. Neither is the payment a gift to the city. The payment should be the equivalent of a business property tax for the large amount of city property occupied tax-free by the government. It is supposed to be payment for the untaxed property occupied by embassies, chanceries and the non-profit organizations attracted to the city by the federal government. The payment also should be compensation for the unending parade of protests, visiting dignitaries and tourists D.C. police and other city agencies must deal with.
One especially infuriating aspect of the subcommittee's decision is that Congress originally authorized a full federal payment -- about $300 million -- when the District charter was drafted. The subcommittee has failed to meet the obligations anticipated by Congress in approving the $300 million figure.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has already said that the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the District also intends to cut the federal payment this year. But the Senate should not accept the drastic cut now making its way through the House. Whatever the final amount agreed to by the House and Senate, it appears that the city will not get its full payment. This means that the city's financial crisis will grow beyond the approximately $175 deficit already projected.
So Mayor Barry should act now to cut more people and programs from the city budget. The District council, which has done nothing to address the budget crisis, should take a leadership role in determining, with the mayor, where the cuts should be made. Meanwhile, all city officials should keep up pressure on Congress to do what it asks all Americans to do -- pay a proper share of government expenses.