WASHINGTON – Two local members of Congress said they were glad President Clinton devoted at least one sentence to his plan to revitalize the District during his hour-long State of the Union speech.
But, said Rep. Constance Morella, R-Bethesda, “He should have done more educating on why the District needs more assistance.”
In his speech, Clinton said he wanted to take an “empowerment approach” in the District to “renew our capital city so that Washington is a great place to work and live and once again the proud face America shows the world.”
To revive poor urban and rural communities around the country, Clinton said, the number of “empowerment zones” should be doubled.
Under an empowerment zone program created by Congress in 1993, $1 billion was allocated to poor communities for programs such as child care, teen pregnancy counseling, job training and tax credits for employers.
The money is being distributed to 105 communities nationwide over a 10-year period.
Some communities received as much as $100 million. The District received $3 million.
Jim Selvaggi, director of operations for empowerment zones for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, said he had no specific information on the president’s plan for the District but assumed Clinton wanted it to apply for more empowerment zone funds similar to those it received in 1993.
Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Largo, said Clinton’s discussion of empowerment zones, particularly for the District, was one of the best things to come out of the speech.
“Empowerment zones can be instrumental in revitalizing certain areas,” Wynn said.
Morella, the new vice chairwoman of a House subcommittee that oversees the District, said she needed more information about Clinton’s proposal for the District. She said she feared it might be more symbol than substance.
“I think the president likes the semantics of the word empowerment,” said the former English professor.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, did not attend Clinton’s address and could not be reached for comment due to an illness in his family.
Morella’s committee will hold hearings soon on the president’s proposal as well as an earlier one that would invest $3.9 billion into the city over five years.
The committee will also review additional plans proposed by D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and the Brookings Institution.
Norton called the president’s earlier plan a “marginal” help to the District.
Her bill would give D.C. residents a 15 percent, across-the- board federal income tax rate. The maximum income tax rate for 1996 nationally was 39.6 percent.
Norton’s plan would also allow residents to claim larger federal tax deductions on income made in the District.
The Brookings plan would eliminate some business taxes, cut property and income taxes and increase federal aid to the District. – 30 –