Barry Makes Plea for More Federal Aid: D.C. Residents Protest Loss of Power

Article excerpt

Barely an hour after hundreds of D.C. residents marched onto the Capitol grounds to protest the federal bailout of the city and demand a return of local control, Mayor Marion Barry yesterday asked Congress to take over more city responsibilities.

Mr. Barry spent the past month railing against the "raping of democracy" in a bailout with congressionally mandated management reforms that stripped him of much of his authority.

But yesterday, the mayor told reporters he wants the federal government to increase its share of Medicaid payments from 70 percent to 100 percent and to take control of the mental health system, already under federal court receivership.

"This is not a contradiction to democracy," Mr. Barry told The Washington Times last night. "The District wants what other states already have because we operate from a state, county and city level.

"The federal government is our state," he said. "And as such they should provide full funding or operation of statelike functions. Just like cities such as Baltimore, citizens retain their right to democracy and their states handle state functions."

In analyzing the economic impact of the bailout at his weekly news conference, Mr. Barry repeated his contention that much of the city's financial troubles stem from its having to pay for services normally handled by state governments. He had used that argument to persuade President Clinton and Congress that the federal government should assume responsibility for the District's $5 billion unfunded pension liability, its court and prison systems, and a greater share of Medicaid costs.

The mayor yesterday said 46 percent of the District's $5.2 billion annual budget covers state-type services. Chief among them, he said, are Medicaid and mental health.

Mark Thompson, founder of the Umoja Party and an organizer of yesterday's protest at the Capitol, said any invitation by Mr. Barry for more federal aid is ill-timed and naive.

"What the District government should have learned is, when you open the door for adjustment . . . you also open the door for meddlesome senators, such as Lauch Faircloth," Mr. Thompson said.

About 80,000 D.C. residents are on Medicaid at a cost ofabout $1 billion a year, the biggest chunk of the budget.

The federal government had paid 50 percent of the city's Medicaid expenditures. Under the bailout, which Mr. Clinton signed into law Aug. 5, the federal government will pay 70 percent.

The change will save the city $136 million in fiscal 1998, which begins Oct. 1, D.C. Chief Financial Officer Anthony A. Williams has said. The city has a $500 million deficit. …