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October 9, 1997
This Statement of Administration Policy provides the Administration's views on
H.R. 2607, the District of Columbia Appropriations Bill, FY 1998, as reported
by the House Appropriations Committee. Your consideration of the
Administration's views would be appreciated.
The Administration strongly opposes section 342 of the Committee bill, which would provide for the use of $7 million in Federal taxpayer funds for private school vouchers. Instead of investing additional resources in public schools, vouchers would allow a few selected students to attend private schools, and would draw attention away from the hard work of reforming public schools that serve the overwhelming majority of D.C. students. Establishing a private school voucher system in the Nation's Capital would set a dangerous precedent for using Federal taxpayer funds for schools that are not accountable to the public. If this language were included in the bill presented to the President, the President's senior advisers would recommend that the President veto the bill.
While the Administration appreciates the support of the Committee in developing a bill that provides sufficient Federal funding to implement the National Capital Revitalization and Self-Government Improvement Act of 1997 (the Revitalization Act), we strongly oppose a number of the provisions of the Committee bill, as described below. Even if the provision concerning school vouchers were to be stricken, the Committee bill would remain unacceptable. Unless the Administration's concerns are satisfactorily resolved, the President's senior advisers would recommend that the President veto the bill. The Administration urges the House to approve the Moran substitute amendment, which would address a number of the concerns detailed below.
The Administration strongly opposes section 159 of the bill, which would require that Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House be opened on January 1, 1998. On May 20, 1995, the Department of the Treasury implemented the security action to prohibit vehicular traffic on Pennsylvania Avenue between 15th and 17th Streets. A White House Security Review concluded that there was no alternative to prohibiting vehicular traffic on Pennsylvania Avenue that would ensure the protection of the President of the United States, the first family, and those working in or visiting the White House Complex from explosive devices carried in vehicles near the perimeter. The Committee's action would jeopardize the safety of those inside the White House Complex.
Public Assistance Payments
The Administration opposes section 149 of the bill, which would prohibit the District from increasing public assistance payments under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program beyond the level provided under the District of Columbia Public Assistance Act of 1982. This restriction is inconsistent with the broad flexibility provided under Federal welfare reform and could hinder the District's efforts to invest resources in areas necessary to move individuals off welfare and into work.
The Administration strongly opposes section 363 of the Committee bill. As drafted, this provision would permit waiver of the application of the Davis-Bacon Act to construction and repair work for the District of Columbia schools. Waiving these protections would deny payment of locally prevailing wages to workers on Federally funded construction sites. The Administration supports the Sabo amendment to strike this provision.
The Administration strongly opposes the abortion language of the Committee bill, which would prohibit the use of both Federal and District funds to pay for abortions except in those cases where the life of the mother is endangered or in situations involving rape or incest. Further, the Department of Justice has advised that the language would be unconstitutional regarding funds provided to the District of Columbia Corrections Trustee, to the extent the language places an undue burden on a woman's right to obtain an abortion. The Administration continues to view the prohibition on the use of local funds as an unwarranted intrusion into the affairs of the District and would support an amendment, if offered, to strike this prohibition.
The Administration opposes the provisions of the Committee bill, that would further restrict or otherwise condition management of the District Government and expenditure of funds, thereby undercutting the Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Authority's (the Authority's) oversight role and responsibility for the District's annual budget.
Specifically, the Administration opposes provisions of the bill that would require the District to direct surplus FY 1998 revenues to a taxpayer relief fund and earmark $200 million in local funds for deficit reduction. These provisions do not reflect the consensus agreement reached by the Authority, the Council, and the Executive Branch on the FY 1998 budget for the District. Moreover, Congress has given to the Authority the responsibility for guiding the District toward long-term financial health, and that role should not be undercut by unnecessary micromanagement.
The Administration also opposes a provision that would amend the District's tort laws and impose a cap on punitive damages at an arbitrary level. The Administration believes that these limits undermine the very purpose of punitive damages, which is to punish and deter misconduct. Furthermore, the Administration strongly opposes any differentiation between so-called "economic" and "non-economic" damages. "Non-economic" damages are just as real as economic damages, and limiting them imposes a hardship on the most vulnerable members of our society.
In addition, we oppose House language that would restrict the District's authority to improve its financial management systems. The District has been told by Congress, by the General Accounting Office, and by the Administration for some time that it needs to improve its financial management systems. The DC Chief Financial Officer and the Authority have taken steps to implement the necessary improvements. The Congress should not use this appropriations bill to block those efforts.
Treasury Borrowing Authority
The Committee bill includes language that would prohibit the District from borrowing to finance its accumulated general fund deficit. It is not uncommon for cities recovering from severe cash flow problems to finance accumulated deficits through long-term borrowing. The Revitalization Act allows the District to borrow up to $300 million from Treasury for deficit financing if the District can show that it does not have private market access. The District needs the flexibility to use the Treasury window for long-term borrowing in case the private markets are not accessible.
D.C. Courts and Offender Services Funding
The Administration strongly opposes language in the Committee bill that provides for funding the District of Columbia Courts and Offender Services through the Office of Management and Budget. The Administration urges the Committee to consider passing funding through stand-alone accounts. The Administration's original proposal called for funding to be passed through the State Justice Institute.
Additionally, the Administration would recommend that the House include language that would make available funds collected by the District of Columbia Courts for necessary expenses, including the funding of pension costs.
The Administration is committed to working with the House to produce a bill that will assist the District in its continued efforts toward financial recovery.