July 26, 2000
The Administration appreciates the Committee's approval of some of the requested funding for the Administration's priorities. Nonetheless, the bill fails to provide adequate funding for programs that promote the economic health and fiscal strength of the District of Columbia. We urge the House to fund these programs at the full, requested levels. In addition, the Committee bill contains many objectionable provisions that continue a pattern of undermining Home Rule, the principle of local control over local matters. The Administration views these objectionable provisions as unwarranted intrusions into the affairs of the District, and we urge the House to remove them. Therefore, we strongly oppose the Committee bill and urge the House to improve it, consistent with the concerns discussed below, so that it can be signed by the President.
The Committee mark misses an opportunity to fund critical investments in economic growth in the District of Columbia. These investments would help to revitalize our Nation's Capital and continue Federal efforts to support the District's efforts to build a sound economic base that generates sufficient tax revenue for the city to ensure its fiscal health. Failing to fund these investments would undermine the Committee's own efforts to put the District on a path to economic growth and fiscal strength.
Resident Tuition Assistance
The Committee mark provides only $14 million for the Resident Tuition Support program, $3 million below both the request and the FY 2000 enacted level of $17 million. This program, which equalizes educational opportunities for young people in the District of Columbia, is a priority of both the Mayor and the Administration and has strong bipartisan support in Congress. The current law restricts eligibility to students who graduated on or after January 1, 1998, which excludes students who will be entering their fourth year of college this fall. The Administration supports expanding the program to include students who graduated from high school on or after January 1, 1997. Expanding the program to include these students may not be possible if funding is reduced to $14 million. The Administration urges that an amendment be offered to fully fund the Resident Tuition Support program and ensure that all students in their first four years of college be included.
District of Columbia Courts and Defender Services
The Administration objects to the underfunding of the operating and capital budgets of the Courts by $3.5 million and to the $4 million cut to the request for Defender Services. This action would eliminate funding for some 4,000 attorney claims for reimbursement of legal services for the District's indigent population through the Criminal Justice Act program. Current funding problems with this program have made it harder for attorneys to receive just compensation for performing their vital role in the criminal justice system. The request would provide a one-time infusion of funds to the program to allow counsel and the Court to move beyond these funding difficulties. We urge the House to restore funding to the President's requested level for Defender Services.
The Committee bill includes 69 general provisions. This is unfortunate. The Administration believes that Congress need not re-enact any of the general provisions included last year, since all the legitimate policy purposes addressed by the general provisions are now addressed elsewhere in existing or proposed local or Federal law. Other general provisions proposed by the Committee are unnecessary or would inappropriately interfere with local matters. Provisions such as section 114, which would require Council approval of capital project borrowing, and section 118, which would require automobiles to be fuel efficient, duplicate existing Federal and DC law. Provisions such as section 113, which would require the Mayor to develop a plan by quarter and project for capital outlay borrowing, and section 120, which would require the Mayor to submit updated revenue estimates to the Council, would inappropriately interfere with local matters.
The following highly objectionable provisions of the Committee bill are particularly unwarranted intrusions into the affairs of the District.
The Administration objects to a number of provisions in the bill that would require congressional approval before Executive Branch execution. The Administration will interpret these provisions to require only notification of Congress, since any other interpretation would contradict the Supreme Court ruling in INS v. Chadha.
The Administration is pleased that the Committee has not included a ban on local or private funds for the purpose of needle exchange programs. Such provisions are encroachments on the District's prerogatives and could seriously disrupt the District's current HIV prevention efforts. For these reasons, the Administration strongly opposes an amendment made in order that would prohibit the use of local funds for this purpose, and also strongly opposes an amendment made in order that would prevent the exchange of needles in large portions of the city.
Reducing teen smoking is a high priority for the Administration; therefore, we support the objective of the amendment related to the possession of tobacco products by minors. However, for the same reasons that Congress has not legislated specific laws for individual States, it would be inappropriate to do so for the District.
The Administration is pleased that the Committee bill does not include the provision included in last year's bill to cap the award of fees for attorneys of plaintiffs in cases brought against the District of Columbia Public Schools under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This provision has had the effect of limiting the access of the District's poor families to quality legal representation, thus impairing their due process protections provided by the IDEA.