Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

D.C.'S Salvation

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

D.C.'S Salvation

Article excerpt

As Americans turn their attention to who should sit in the White House next, the city surrounding the presidential mansion continues to slide toward bankruptcy and decay.

Washington, D.C. should be a source of pride to all Americans, with its storied monuments and its impressive halls of power. But that pride is heavily diluted by the presence of garbage-strewn streets, schools too decrepit to open this fall, and open-air drug bazaars - all just a few blocks from the Capitol Mall.

The blame for that urban disintegration is usually heaped on the city administration, headed by a mayor, Marion Barry, with his own history of drug abuse and crumbling political charisma. But that's too easy. Washington, D.C.'s problems also have a lot to do with the unique governmental structure it has been saddled with for two decades.

In 1974, the city's voters opted for "home rule," ending decades of direct government by Congress. To city residents, most of them black, this seemed a declaration of independence. But it came with lots of strings. The District is still dependent on Congress for a yearly appropriation that funds much of its operation, and it has to pay for many services, such as Medicaid, that other cities support through grants from the federal government. Its tax revenues are pinched by congressional constraints on the types of levies it can use and by the prevalence of tax-free government and diplomatic properties.

That said, the mayor's diligent larding of the city bureaucracy with his supporters, combined with the recession of the late 1980s, certainly did much to precipitate the torrents of red ink. But over the past year Mr. Barry has striven to reverse his course. He has had little choice, whipped on by a presidentially appointed Financial Control Board and by the realization that the political times have indeed changed. …

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