THE U.S. OFFICE of Management and Budget's decision not to allow the District to request $4.6 million in added federal payment this fiscal year is a reminder that this city is still seen by some as an insignificant pebble in the federal government's rock pile. The city government has congressional authority to request as much as $300 million per year from the federal government, and the $4.6 million would have taken the city to the limit. The Senate Appropriations Committee had seen the request and approved it. But OBM -- which transmits all budget requests from the District to Congress -- decided that the city does not need the extra money. When asked why OMB did not forward the supplemental appropriation request, as spokesman said: "In this time of budgetary constraint it [the expenditure] is not possible."
But the federal payment to the District is not a charitable contribution to be arbitrarily withheld when federal spending is being cut. The District government is having its own budget troubles. And, most important, the federal payment is compensation, not a gift, for services the city provides to the federal government, ranging from police protection for the president to the handling of demonstrations. Congress wrote home-rule legislation authorizing the city to receive as much as $300 million from the federal government for such services.But that money is not granted without Congress' reviewing the entire city budget to see how federal money, as well as local tax revenues, are being spent and -- if it pleases -- cutting the city budget request.
That system of budgetary review is onerous enough for the city government without OMB invoking its authority to withhold from Congress the city's request. That truth has been recognized in the past by presidents who have generally passed the city's budget proposals on to Congress for a yes or no decision.
If OMB had given the city early notice of its intent not to transmit a request for added money, the city's leaders would at least have been able to argue their position.