WASHINGTON -- The House of Representatives yesterday approved legislation that promises to provide the District of Columbia with a predictable annual federal payment.
The bill, which would fix the federal money to a set formula, won approval on a voice vote after House members praised the leadership of Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon.
"Sharon Pratt Dixon has shown herself to be an individual of great merit and courage," said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.
Following the vote, House District Committee Chairman Ronald Dellums, D-Calif., predicted swift action in the Senate. "We have reason to believe the Senate will act before the July  break," he said.
And Rep. Hoyer vowed to work hard to ensure that President Bush signs the measure into law. The Bush administration has indicated initial opposition to the bill, but has not threatened to veto.
As Mayor Dixon looked on from the House visitors gallery, one member after another said the new administration has helped usher in a "new day" in congressional relations with the federal government.
Under Mayor Dixon's predecessor, Marion Barry Jr., relations between the city and Congress soured as lawmakers became disenchanted with the former mayor's handling of city affairs.
The legislation, co-sponsored by Rep. Dellums and Rep. Thomas J. Bliley Jr., R-Va., would have the federal government provide the city with an annual amount of money equal to 24% of city revenues.
Under the bill, each year's authorization would be calculated based on revenues the city raised two fiscal year prior to that in which the payment is made -- a provision reducing any temptation district officials might have to increase the federal payment by raising local taxes.
For example, in 1993 the payment would be an estimated $652.5 million.
The federal government provides an annual payment to the city to compensate it for the burdens of hosting the federal government.
Among those burdens is a lack of taxable property. Roughly 55% of the land in the district is owned by the federal government or foreign governments and therefore cannot be taxed.
The annual federal payment has held steady at $435 million for the past six years, but the exact amount of the payment has largely been an unknown to district officials because of the vagaries of the legislative process.
The new formula approved by the House would reduce city officials' uncertainties about the size of the federal payment.
In concert with other financial reforms, the legislation could place the city on a sounder financial footing and help it to achieve a bond rating upgrade. The city's bonds are rated Baa by Moody's Investors Service and A-minus by Standard & Poor's Corp.
Ratings analysts have cited the unpredictability of the size of the federal payment as a negative factor in their assessment of the city's debt.
Following the vote, Mayor Dixon offered her "hearthfelt thanks" to lawmakers who shepherded the legislation through the House, but tempered her enthusiasm because the measure is not yet law.
Mayor Dixon also said she would continue to fight to bring baseball to the district. The National League, which will expand its membership by two teams in 1992, decided Monday to bypass the district and selected Denver and Miami to host the new teams.
The mayor attributed the league's decision to the Washington area's recession, which made it difficult for local leaders to attract "heavy hittes" for the ownership group.