WASHINGTON -- The House of Representatives yesterday overwhelmingly approved a $700 million appropriations bill for the District of Columbia, including a record federal payment of $630.5 million to the city.
But the 1992 fiscal year appropriation, approved by a 300-to-123 vote, does not include language authorizing the city's plan to issue $332 million of general obligation bonds to eliminate the district's accumulated deficit.
In a report accompanying the legislation, the House Appropriations Committee said it "recommends" the $41.17 million necessary to pay off the 12-year bonds, but that it had "deferred action" on authorizing the bond sale at the request of the House District of Columbia Committee.
The deficit bond plan is the centerpiece of Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon's proposal to eliminate the city's accumulated deficit and put the district on a sounder financial footing. District officials had hoped the plan would be authorized as part of the city's appropriations bill, which, assuming President Bush signs it, would allow the city to proceed with the bond issue as soon as the measure becomes law.
Under the city's home rule charter, legislation approved by the Council of the District of Columbia is subject to congressional review. That review, usually performed over a period of 30 legislative days, generally takes more time than an affirmative vote by the Congress because that legislative body usually only works four or five days per week. And in this case, Congress is taking all next week off in celebration of Independence Day.
Nevertheless, the council recently approved a bill authorizing the bond sale, giving the city two chances to get the plan approved: after congressional review or in the appropriations bill.
Because the appropriations bill does not contain authorizing language, it remains unclear whether the city will get approval for the deficit bonds before it needs cash in August. Consequently, the city may once again have to resort to a costly, short-term borrowing.
The appropriations bill does contain some bright spots for the city. For example, the federal payment to the district -- money given annually to the city as compensation for the burdens of hosting the federal government -- would jump to $630.5 million in the 1992 fiscal year, which begis Oct. 1.
The payment was only $430.5 million for this fiscal year, though Congress earlier this year approved an emergency appropriation of $100 million for the city, which boosted the city's take to $530 million.
Rounding out the appropriations package is $52.1 million for the city's pension plan, $12 million for the city's general hospital, $1.1 million for city schools, $3 million for the Children's National Medical Center, $1 million for the D.C. Institute for Mental Health, and $75,000 for the Metropolitan police. Though Senate approval of the bill is considered likely, it may be a while before the city sees any of the money. The bill includes provisions that would allow the city to use locally generated revenues to fund abortions for the poor. Similar provisions have led President Bush to veto the last two district appropriations bills, and the President is expected to veto this one as well.