The D.C. City Council yesterday approved a $2.4 billion city operating budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 after adding substantially more money for public schools, more for public housing repairs, and funds for the University of the District of Columbia to acquire the endangered Antioch School of Law.
The council agreed to cover the additional spending by enacting a one-time tax amnesty program to waive penalties for delinquent taxpayers who pay their back taxes, and by either increasing the city's cigarette tax by 4 cents per pack or by taxing D.C. lottery winnings, which now are exempt from local income tax.
Adoption of the fiscal 1987 budget, which includes $16.5 million more in spending for the schools than Mayor Marion Barry recommended, marked a victory for D.C. Board of Education members and school Superintendent Floretta D. McKenzie, who lobbied the council intensely for additional funding. Council members said the $1.3 million included for UDC makes it possible for the university to take over Antioch Law School, although UDC trustees say more money is needed.
Dwight Cropp, the mayor's liaison with the council, said the Barry administration "can live with" the council's budget as passed yesterday and that there has been no talk of vetoing it. Cropp said Barry was pleased that the council could find additional funds for the schools.
The school budget dominated the contentious six-hour meeting, with members yelling at each other and several expressing anger and frustration at parents and the school board for forcing large budget increases. Several members said the school board has wasted past spending increases it insisted upon and has not improved the schools as much as promised.
"It's a stickup. It goes on every year," said council member John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2), who pounded the dais during the long debate. "I'm tired of threats. I'm tired of misinformation."
Council member William Spaulding (D-Ward 5) said, "They school officials are going to do what they jolly well please, and we don't have the guts to pass a law over here to tell them they have to tell us what they are going to do" with funding increases.
The 1987 operating budget approved by the council is a 6.5 percent increase over the current year's budget of $2.2 billion. The council also voted to adopt a 1987 capital improvement budget of $310 million, compared with $229 million this year.
Of the $393.8 million in operating funds approved for the schools, $8 million is specified as a one-time expenditure for school repairs. The school board originally requested $396.2 million, but Barry had recommended $380.7 million.
The council also added $3.4 million to the school's board's capital improvement budget request of $58 million -- the same level recommended by the mayor.
The City Council is counting on raising $20 million in revenue from its proposed tax amnesty plan, which is similar to programs in a number of other states and to one that has been proposed at the federal level.
However, Barry estimated in a letter to the council yesterday that tax amnesty would bring in only $8 million to $10 million. Cropp said the administration has not had a chance to assess the impact of an increase in the current 13-cent-per-pack cigarette tax or lottery income tax plan.
An estimated $8.7 million of the tax amnesty revenue would go toward reducing the city's accumulated general fund deficit. Another $2 million was earmarked for repairs in public housing.
A council committee had already transferred $6 million into the public housing repair program from a project in the mayor's budget to renovate a housing department warehouse.
Council members voiced concerns that agencies in charge of D.C. drug abuse treatment programs were not spending all of the money budgeted for them, but they nonetheless approved a $500,000 increase for existing drug programs. Half of the money is to be transferred from the police department's budget.
Council Chairman David A. Clarke said the council had heard from what he described as proven drug treatment groups like Rap and Second Genesis about a lack of funding at the same time the city is starting new drug programs.
Council member Hilda Mason (Statehood-At Large), chairwoman of the Education Committee, first suggested using increased cigarette tax revenue to cover additional spending for schools.
The budget measure goes to the mayor for signing and then to Congress for review and possible modification.
Parents United for D.C. Public Schools and the school board had lobbied heavily for increases over the mayor's budget. Last week, they held a rally in front of the District Building attended by 3,000 parents, students and school officials. McKenzie, the highly regarded superintendent, had hinted she might resign if the money was not forthcoming.
Delabian Rice-Thurston, director of Parents United, said after the council vote that she was pleased about the increase but that her group continues to be concerned that part of it is for one year only and will not be included in the school's base budget. "For us, it's very important that we have nothing less each year."
Clarke called on the parents' group to put more pressure on the school board to use its funds more efficiently.
"I have seen requests come to the City Council from the school board to correct some horrible problem" that the council has responded to by approving additional funds, he said.
"A year later we come back, and nothing has been done."