D.C. Mayor Marion Barry threatened yesterday to veto the city's 1983 operating budget unless the City Council either approves $11.6 million in additional taxes he requested or cuts spending by that amount to balance the budget.
Barry's budget, submitted Jan. 4, was balanced by several proposed tax increases, the most significant of which was an increase in the gross receipts tax paid by utility companies.
Although it has tentatively approved spending at nearly the same level as proposed by Barry, about $1.89 billion, the City Council, which is scheduled to take final action on the budget today, has indicated that it will not approve most of those taxes.
It has suggested instead that the budget will be balanced without tax increases because revenues from current sources will be much greater than the mayor has forecast.
Barry insisted at a press conference yesterday that that would amount to an unbalanced budget. "I have no choice but to veto the entire budget unless they send me a balanced budget," he said. "You can't continue to have political rhetoric -- adding here and adding there -- without having the money to pay for it."
Although the city is required to pass a balanced budget, the city's charter does not say unequivocally that the spending plan and the tax measures to support it must be passed at the same time. Usually, final action on the revenue measures is taken months after the budget is approved by the council.
Several council members contended yesterday that Barry was breaking from past traditions. "I have no intention of trying to pass any tax at this point, period," said council member John A. Wilson, chairman of the Finance and Revenue Committee. "I know of no one on the council who will approve of any tax increase."
However, Gladys W. Mack, the mayor's budget director, said that in all years past, the council has either taken preliminary or final action on proposed tax packages or given some indication that they will be approved before the budget is passed.
This time, council members have informally indicated that they will not pass additional taxes.
"Never before has the council raised the specter that if the revenue measures don't pass, that it's okay because the mayor can revise his revenue estimates," Mack said. "That has never been a factor before. Never, ever has the council depended on the revision of revenue estimates," Mack said.
Several council members, including Chairman Arrington Dixon, said they were stunned by the mayor's demand.
"I must admit this is a surprise," Dixon said. "The only required action is to approve the budget and identify potential revenue sources. I think it is an improper distortion of the legitimate legislative process."
The taxes Barry and the council are squabbling over include $8.2 million that would be raised by increasing the gross receipts tax on public utilities from 6 to 8 percent, $1.7 million in increased waste disposal fees and $1.5 million from revisions in the real estate property tax.
Barry said yesterday that he has no complaints with the council's spending priorities, which included adding $20.7 million to the budget for the public schools. Most of that money would come from reducing the amount of money Barry had proposed paying to help retire the city's accumulated debt and to improve its financial management system. "All I want is a balanced budget," Barry said.
But Dixon insisted the budget, tentatively approved on Tuesday, is balanced. "We are recognizing the same revenues that the mayor used."
Barry said he wouldn't attempt to reverse the council's decision on school funding.
"I've done all that's required of me . . . and quite frankly, the $16.5 million for debt retirement doesn't have much of a constituency," Barry said. "It doesn't have many people saluting the flag for it."
Barry has exercised a line-item veto in the past but has never vetoed an entire budget, according to Mack. If Barry decides to veto a portion or all of the budget, the 13-member council has 30 days in which to override the action with a two-thirds vote.