If Mayor Marion Barry is feeling besieged or overwhelmed by the District's long-running fiscal drama, it doesn't show when he sits down to talk about it. He talks like a man who has regained the initiative and left his critics behind.
With his long-range financial plan published and his 1981 budget approved substantially intact by a key Congressional committee, Barry says that "we are on target" in the quest for financial stability.
After months of confusion and bad news about the state of the city's finances, Barry said in an interview that his plan "has begun to settle us down." Some critics have voiced skepticism about the plan, but Barry believes that "people now have a sense of direction, and they can expect certain things for the future as opposed to every other day wondering what's going to happen."
Barry presented last week a complex rescue plan, combining loans, austerity and congressional aid, that he said would pay off the city's cumulative debt and balance future budgets without raising taxes. That plan, he said, "is solid. It makes sense. It seems to address all the components of the problem," and implementation of it is now his primary objective.
That plan includes a novel proposal to raise $215 million in cash by selling bonds through the Federal Financing Bank, an obscure arm of the U.S. Treasury that buys securities issued or guaranteed by agencies of the U.S. government. In the week since he proposed that, Barry said, "I find that this far-fetched idea of mine of the Federal Financing Bank is not so far-fetched. People now say it was a pretty creative idea."
No one in Congress has introduced the legislation that would enable the District to qualify for such a loan, but the mayor said he did not expect action this session.
"We don't need the $215 million tomorrow morning in the sense of going bankrupt," he said. "In the final analysis, if Congress doesn't like this series of ideas, they have to come up with some idea that's going to work. And if in the final analysis they come up with none, they will have killed the plan, not me."
Barry dismissed his critics in the City Council, Congress and the press as either misinformed or ill-intentioned.
"It's like with the Greeks," he said. "When a messenger brought bad news, they killed the messenger." He said that since no one person or organization was responsible for the city's financial plight, "no one ought to feel defensive about sharing the burden and sharing the responsibility" for dealing with it.
There are, he said, "some people in Congress -- and they're in the minority -- who want the plan to fail and therefore they'll use any excuse, anything they can find, they'll shoot at it. But our friends on the Hill that I've talked to in the past three or four days are seriously looking at this plan and thinking about it."
Attempts to balance future budgets without tax increases will result in "pain and suffering," he said. But Barry said he would ask civic groups and community organizations to participate in deciding how the money should be divided up. "It can't be the kind of participation that says, cut out everything else except me," he said.
Scratching out figures on a pad with a felt-tip pen, Barry insisted that the numbers underlying his proposals -- subsequently questioned by the city auditor, members of Congress and other critics -- were consistent and accurate "if everybody interprets them correctly.
"Some people don't like these numbers so they mess with them," he said. "But the numbers we put out, in terms of cash needs, the deficit and pension needs, aren't going to change."