- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 26, 2000

The District of Columbia's appropriations bill faces a vote in Congress today, where there is opposition over federal funding for the $84 million proposed New York Avenue Metro station.

House leaders also are expected to debate social riders like funding for needle-exchange programs in the District which have been attached to the spending measure.

City leaders have urged Republican leaders to fully fund the District's budget requests while a battle continues over the source of millions of dollars in earned interest and what to spend it on.

Where the money comes from to pay for the proposed Metro stop is all the more important since the estimated cost has grown by $9 million.

The project was estimated originally at $75 million, with the federal government, the city and property owners around the proposed station each expected to pitch in $25 million. But Metro documents show the cost has grown to $84 million, even before station designs have begun.

"There's been an effort to misinform people by claiming that we haven't funded the Metro station or the scholarship program," said Rep. Ernest Istook, Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the subcommittee on the District.

D.C. officials had hoped that the House Appropriations subcommittee on the District would approve a special appropriation for the city's share of the subway costs. But last week, the House appropriated only $7 million directly for the subway station and said the remaining $18 million would come from interest earned from a city escrow account controlled by the financial control board.

"It's critical money, without which the subway will be delayed," said D.C. congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat.

"You're going to take it from school transportation for special education [students] and put it into the Metro stop," Mrs. Norton said.

"D.C. couldn't possibly do that kind of tradeoff that's why D.C. did the one-third agreement to begin with."

Francis S. Smith, the control board's executive director, said only about $4 million annually comes from federal contributions, while much of the $59.1 million account comes from city money, like proceeds from the sale of school buildings.

"This would essentially take all the interest," Mr. Smith said.

The interest account is expected to earn more than $33 million in fiscal year 2001. With those earnings and a surplus from this year, Mr. Istook's staffers claim there still would be $27 million for the Metro station even after other D.C. expenditures.

But the Office of the Chief Financial Officer said yesterday that spending $18 million on the Metro station would interfere with the city's revenue stream for next year.

Mr. Istook questioned the need to double the control board's budget in its last year and its motives in wanting full use of the interest account funds. For example, the control board has obligated $1.4 million in bonus money for the mayor's office at the end of this year and more than $52 million in spending for next year out of the interest fund, including its own $6.5 million budget about double of last year. However, the Appropriations Committee only authorized about half that amount.

Mr. Smith said the control board spent $3.5 million on charter schools, consultants at D.C. General Hospital and fixing the school system's bus problems.

He said next year's funds would be used to hire school transportation consultants and turn around mismanagement at the Public Benefits Corp. and the University of the District of Columbia.

The proposed Metro station would be located on the Red Line about a block south of the intersection of Florida and New York avenues in Northeast and would be Metro's first new station constructed on an existing line. The proposed station would be west of the existing subway tracks in the 200 block of M Street NE.

Metro estimates that between 5,000 and 10,000 daily riders would use the station daily and hopes to open it by 2004. The city is pushing commercial redevelopment in the area.

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