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D.C. Seeks $640M in Fed. Money

D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams (D) called on Congress to step up federal funding for everything from Metro operations to security for major national events, including the presidential inauguration, at Wednesday’s Senate hearing on the District’s request for roughly $640 million in federal spending for fiscal 2005.

President Bush has requested $560 million in federal funds for the district in fiscal 2005. The total operating budget, which includes both local and federal funds, is estimated at $6 billion for next year.

Williams argued that the District’s unique position and responsibilities as a federal city dictate that Congress should fully fund the city’s Metro subsidy, massively increasing its $3 million fiscal 2004 contribution to $164.2 million.

“We are paying a disproportionate share here in the District … compared to Maryland and Virginia because the formula doesn’t really recognize our peculiar situation,” Williams said.

Noting the increased security requirements of a post-Sept. 11, 2001, world, Williams said the District is requesting $25 million for its public safety event fund, which goes toward high-profile events and protests. That’s an increase of $10 million over President Bush’s proposal.

“The inauguration [costs] will be significantly higher than in the past,” Williams told members of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the District of Columbia.

Among Williams’ other key requests was $9 million in funding for the planning and design of a bioterrorism and forensics lab, which in addition to analyzing criminal evidence would “significantly enhance our ability to detect and respond effectively to” terrorist threats, he said. Currently, the District makes use of an FBI laboratory, an arrangement Williams said is inadequate.

“We are not their top priority by definition,” said Williams. He said that he expected total planning and construction costs for the lab — which he anticipated would be paid for through a combination of local and federal funds — to reach $80 million by 2008, with annual operating requirements estimated at $42 million.

Subcommittee Chairman Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) appeared sympathetic to Williams’ argument, conceding after the hearing that the “city can’t be going hat in hand to the FBI” whenever it needed to use the facilities.

“A city this size needs its own forensics lab,” he said.

District officials are seeking an additional $1 million for the downtown circulator bus initiative, which aims to improve transportation flow in and around the National Mall and other areas. The request would double the fiscal 2004 federal funding level for the project.

Panel members roundly praised the city’s improved bond rating, which received an “A” grade for the first time in years in April.

As a result, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) said she would recommend minor adjustments that would increase flexibility in the use of D.C.’s emergency and contingency cash reserve — a move requested by city officials.

Given ongoing concerns about the District’s $470 million to $1.1 billion per-year structural deficit, DeWine said he would convene a hearing June 22 to examine the imbalance. Expected witnesses include Virginia Reps. Jim Moran (D) and Tom Davis (R), as well as D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D).