WASHINGTON – A key congressman said Wednesday he doubted the District would receive additional federal money before May, but endorsed naming an emergency oversight board to help the city through its fiscal crisis.
Rep. James Walsh, chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on the District, said the District’s problem is not caused by a lack of revenue, but by a lack of accountability and good management.
“I don’t believe we are going to solve this in a traditional way,” said Walsh, a New York Republican. “I will not bring an appropriations bill to Congress to give the District more money this year.”
His comments followed a six-hour hearing on Capitol Hill, in which D.C. Mayor Marion Barry asked Congress for an additional $267 million in federal funds to help ease its deficit this year.
Barry also asked Congress to allow the city to tax workers who don’t live there.
And he asked it to take control of a number of city-managed functions, including the prison system, the retirement pension plan for city employees, D.C. General Hospital and the University of the District of Columbia.
Walsh didn’t comment on the commuter tax request, and said it was too early to discuss congressional takeover of some city functions.
He said he wants Congress to create an emergency finance board of D.C. residents and business leaders who would be given the authority to bring the city budget into line.
D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat, last week suggested creating a financial and management oversight board that would audit the District’s financial records.
“I agree with it in principal, but the structure is yet to be determined,” Walsh said of Norton’s proposal.
Barry expressed fears about a board that might exclude his full participation.
He said he supports a board to deal with the structural problems of the District’s finances. But he does not want one that would just “take the existing money we have and tell us how to spend it.”
Norton said the board should create spending plans, develop and enforce a multi-year budget plan, and address underlying operational problems in consultation with the District’s elected officials.
“The District is up against the wall. It needs an intermediary to get some more time,” said Norton at Wednesday’s hearing.
The General Accounting Office predicted Wednesday that the District will run out of cash as early as May if a solution to its fiscal crisis is not found.
The GAO said the city is expected to overspend its $3.2 billion budget for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 by $631 million. The city also has a $335 million debt from 1994, the GAO reported.
“The oversight board simply has to be done immediately to save the District,” Norton said. -30-