LET THERE BE no mistake about it, no wishful thinking that the capital city of the United States might be too special to be touched: Gramm-Rudman-Hollings has come to town. This city has to take its lumps too -- and it is financially sound enough to survive. While Uncle Sam's math in calculating the cut in the current year's federal payment to the District has some builtin quirks, the cold fact is that the proposed figure of $23.5 million is likely to stick.
One oddity is the inclusion in the federal payment appropriation of the federal government's water and sewer bill from the local government. Up to now, it didn't much matter that this was somehow figured into the calculations. But the bill for water and sewer service should be treated as a simple utility bill -- a user fee to be paid in full. After all, the federal government doesn't just scribble "Gramm-Rudman" across its electricity bill and reduce its payment to Pepco by 4.3 percent. It could, of course, cut its use of electricity or water and sewer service by 4.3 percent. Anyway, even if this item were treated as it should be, you could expect the federal government to make up the difference through some other bookkeeping method.
There is another difficulty for the District this year -- though it's a one-time-only effect of the cuts. The federal payment is paid to the city at the beginning of each fiscal year. That means the District got its money for this year and already has spent most of it. That's a blow -- but not a heavy one.
In general the District's financial health is stable enough to absorb what it has to -- this time, at least. After this year, the decisions could get a lot tougher but that should be true elsewhere as well.