Top officials of the Marion Barry administration, acknowledging increasing propects of a revenue shortfall this year that could add to the city's accumulated budget deficit, said yesterday they are prepared to use money set aside to retire the long-term debt to avoid ending another fiscal year in the red.
That proposal, the latest indication that the city may be on the brink of financial woes again, drew an immediate response from the ranking minority member of the House D.C. Appropriations Subcommittee.
Rep. Lawrence Coughlin (R-Pa.) said he plans to ask Congress to delay action on the District's pending $63.9 million budget supplement until the city's finances can be reviewed by Congress.
"I feel a little bit like I've been flim-flammed by the mayor on the budget figures," Coughlin said. "We had no indication there was any problem."
Subcommittee member John Porter (R-Ill.) said the mayor's proposal to use the $10 million to keep the current city budget in balance is evidence of bad financial management that will hurt the city's efforts to get congressional permission to sell bonds, and hurt its bond ratings if it does sell bonds.
"I'm very anxious that the money be set aside and put against the long-term debt as it was intended to be," said Porter. "The $10 million is a very small amount really compared to the overall size of the accumulated debt and to take away that money is just not good financial mangement."
When Congress approved the D.C. budget for the current fiscal year, $10 million was set aside as an installment payment on a $309 million debt that has accumulated over the years. Barry administration officials have said constistently since that time that incoming revenues would be more than adequate to cover this year's expenditures.
May revenues, however, fell $16.2 million below forecast and those for June were $7.6 million low, making the cumulative shortfall for the year $12.9 million.
That prompted Mayor Marion Barry, who had told Congress in May that the city's budget problems were over, to concede earlier this week that in a "worst case" situation, there could be a $5 million or $6 million deficit when the fiscal year ends Sept. 30. Council member John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2), chairman of the council's finance and revenue committee, predicted a deficit of at least $20 million to $40 million.
City Administrator Elijah B. Rogers said yesterday that if the shortfall does not go beyond the current $12 million, the budget can be balanced without dipping into the $10 million debt retirement fund. But Rogers said the fund legally could be used to help keep the budget in balance if that is necssaary.
"You can see the shortfall on the revenue side but you can't see what I'm doing on the spending side," said Rogers. "I'm controlling expenditures. We're filling only essential positions, controlling expenditures for furniture and supplies. I haven't proposed to the mayor using that $10 million but we could do that. I have a contingency plan."
At a press conference Tuesday, Barry had described the $10 million as a "cushion" to soften any budget hardships caused by the revenue shortfall. Coughlin disputed that, saying Congress had other intentions when it approved the budget.
"The $10 million was not meant to be a cushion for the city budget," Coughlin said. "I've always felt the city should be putting more money into retiring debt despite the rosy stories about the city having surplus revenues that they wanted applied to other programs in the supplemental."
Wilson noted that the city already has taken money in next year's budget originally earmarked for long-term debt retirement and targeted for the school system.
"It doesn't matter a whole lot since we already took $20 million out of the '83 budget so the mayor could play politics with it and give it to the school budget," said Wilson. "I think we've got $2.9 million left in the '83 budget to retire the long-term debt. They're not serious about this."
City budget director Gladys W. Mack said yesterday that if the supplemental is not approved the city will have added financial problems because most of the money already is committed to ongoing city programs. Without it, she said, dramatic program reductions would have to be made in order to balance the budget.
Rep. Julian Dixon (D-Calif.), chairman of the subcommittee, could not be reached for comment.
On Tuesday, Barbara C. Washington, the city's chief lobbyist, requested that a scheduled hearing be postponed on the District's request for authority to take control of RFK Stadium and to extend the city's authority to borrow from the U.S. Treasury.
Washington said yesterday that she asked the postponement because administration officials have decided not to request the added borrowing authority until next year.
But according to congressional staff sources, city officials stressed that the hearings be delayed until after the September Democratic primary since a discussion of the city's finances could hurt Barry's reelection effort.