In Washington last week, we got a look at a whole new approach to budget balancing--Barryism. Mayor Barry unveiled an austere budget that basically was balanced on the backs of the city's poor.
Thousands of disabled, unemployed and elderly residents would suffer sharply reduced city aid under his plan. One whole category of public assistance--aid to those who cannot work because of temporary disabilities--would end in its present form starting Oct. 1.
Programs from medicaid to shelter for the homeless to jobless and disability pay for city workers would be slashed or limited.
Poor residents would have to pay part of the cost of services such as drug treatment, long-term emergency shelter, and some routine health services.
We are, of course, living in times of less. Every city in the country is facing tough financial choices. But this financial plan, especially juxtaposed against his decision to give his top aides large pay bonuses, poses a basic question: whatever happened to the mayor's traditional identification with the poor and downtrodden whom he is famous for helping?
Although everyone would be affected by this plan, his hold-the-line budget makes no equally dramatic cuts in the programs and services that affect the average middle-class or rich person directly.
This budget leads me to a drastic comparison:
Although they proceeded from dramatically different motivation, Mayor Barry is employing a budget-cutting strategy that is not too different from President Reagan's--cutting the safety net out from under the poor.
In Reagan's case, he cut social programs and beefed up defense as part of radical social and structural change as well as economic change. Reaganism declared social war on millions of poor Americans only to unleash a flood of suffering that pinched the middle class. But Reagan ran afoul of reality. Last week's Gallup poll showed Reagan trailing two leading Democrats in trial heats for the l984 election, and political observers now are writing requiems for Reaganism.
Barryism doesn't make the needy bear the brunt of the cuts in the city budget for any ideological reason. It's born of a shift to economic realities and practicalities. But who is suffering?
In all fairness, the former civil rights activist, while shifting from a position of advocacy to one of power, has often used both levers to demonstrate his concern for low-income people. In the brief days since his inaugural, he broke ground for a new office building at 14th and U streets NW., and pushed the lottery board into moving its offices to Anacostia, both actions which should create jobs and economic activity in these depressed areas.
But these good moves aren't enough. Barry might be faulted less if he were a "traditional" politician. But as a black politician, he should understand more clearly than most white politicians that the critical need of minorities is for jobs as even as he maintains the city's strong economic base.
What, you ask, are his alternatives in his responsibility for careful city management?
His alternative may be to come up with an original approach to trying to generate jobs by selling his city the way other mayors have, thereby making the District something of a forerunner in addressing the whole work scene. The example of Henry Cisneros, the first Mexican-American mayor of San Antonio, may be instructive. In his two years in office, Cisneros has been a super salesman for his city, a recruiter of new high tech industry. He is trying to create a model that proves that an ethnically diverse city with a large number of poor, undereducated people can succeed in the system and provide jobs and opportunities for people.
Barry could combine his liberal philosophy with a fast-lane economic approach, one that brings in revenue-producing businesses that provide jobs that in turn reduce the number of poor dependent upon city services. That could be another model of sorts. Instead, he resorts to old approaches that have been discredited on the national level.
Where is the vision? Where is the justice?