President Ford yesterday proposed a fiscal 1978 federal payment to the District of Columbia that is $10 million less than city officials expected, putting the District's proposed 1978 budget $10 million out of balance.

D.C. Mayor Walter E. Washington decried President Ford's proposal of a U.S. payment of only $290 million instead of the $300 million maximum authorized by Congress, calling the proposed lesser sum "arbitrary and superimposed on the city."

Mayor Washington noted at a press conference that this is the first time in at least a decade that a President has called on Congress to appropriate less than the full amount of the authorized federal payment to the District.

The mayor said he will maek a strong plea to President-elect Carter within a day of Carter's inauguration Thursday to have the $10 million added to the proposed federal payment.

Mayor Washington made no effort to conceal his unhappiness with the Ford administration's departing federal payment proposal, saying, "We've never had this kind of a problem before. There is something queer about this at the end of a term."

The annual federal payment to the District government is meant to reimburse the city for the loss of property tax revenues from federal buildings and the additional municipal costs of being the federal city.

For the current fiscal 1977 budget year, a $280 million federal payment ceiling was set by Congress and the full amount was requested by President Ford, with Congerss appropriating $259.8 million. A supplemental request from the city for the $20 million difference now is before Congress.

In recent years Presidents have always gone along with the District's request for the full federal payment authorized, with Congress later trimming the request to a somewhat smaller federal payment.

President Ford's decision this year not to ask Congress for the full federal payment that the District is authorized to receive under the Home Rule Act means that the city government is starting off further behind than previously in its search for federal financial assistance.

Mayor Washington said he did not know what had motivated the Ford administration's cut. "It might be in the same syndrome as the proposal for statehood for Puerto Rico," said Washington.

The mayor declined to discuss what might have to be cut out of the District's proposed 1978 budget if the Carter administration can't be persuaded to add $10 million. The fiscal year 1978 begins Oct. 1, 1977.

President Ford's proposed 1978 budget also recommends transfer of St. Elizabeths Hospital from the federal government to the District government by 1980.

The federal budget says, "Federal funds of up to $100 million will be requested for renovation and new construction" at the mental hospital in Anacostia. "The federal government would continue to subsidize St. Elizabeths Hospital's operating costs at a declining rate for several years after the transfer and would reimburse the District fully for the treatment of federal beneficiaries," the budget notes.

Mayor Washington said that the proposed federal payment of $100 million to renovate St. Elizabeths was "within the ballpark" of what District officials had asked in federal assistance to help them assume responsibility for the hospital, which cares primarily for D.C. residents.

However, the $100 million is not part of this year's proposed federal budget, but is merely a recommendation. The controversial proposed transfer from federal to District control must be approved by Congress, and is not at all assured.

Another portion of President Ford's proposed budget requests a supplemental appropriation of $29 million for 1977 and an additional $21 million in 1978 "to begin the revitalization of downtown Washington, D.C., envisioned in the 14-year Pennsylvania Avenue development plan," which was approved by Congress in 1975.

The Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corp., a public body, will oversee the development in cooperation with private enterprise. President Ford's budget estimates that costs for land acquisition and construction will be $26 million in 1978 and $33 million in 1979

Another section of the proposed federal budget would provide $5 million to the National Fire Prevention and Control Administration to convert the campus of the former Marjorie Webster Junior College in Northwest Washington to a national training center for firemen.

Despite local opposition, last summer the National Fire Prevention and Control Administration, a new federal agency, chose the Marjorie Webster site at 17th Street and Kalmia Road NW as its choice for a firemen's school. Only classroom activity and no practice fires are planned for the 8.5-acre campus.

President Ford also is proposing that the Temporary Commission on Financial Oversight of the District of Columbia, which was created by Congress last year to help improve the city's financial management, receive a $1.5 million supplemental federal payment this fiscal year and $3 million in federal money in fiscal 1978.

The Financial Oversight Commission is authorized to spend up to $16 million, with the federal monies to be matched equally by District funds.

Mayor Washington and District budget director Comer S. Coppie yesterday criticized another provision of the proposed federal budget, which they said would require the city to do all its borrowing by selling bonds on the private market, taking away the city's present authority to borrow up to $40 million annually in short term notes from the U.S. Treasury.

Coppie said that District government officials will push the Carter administration to allow the city to retain its power to borrow up to $40 million from the federal government in funds that are to be repaid within the same fiscal year.

The availability of such short-term federal lendings has in recent years often been crucial to the financially hard-pressed District government.