The D.C. City Council turned down a request yesterday from the city's cash-strapped lottery board for $1.5 million more in operating funds this year, provoking a financial emergency that could force the board to temporarily shut down.
Lottery board Chairman Brant Coopersmith said late yesterday the board already has overspent its current budget by $110,000. He said that in light of the council's unexpected action, it was unclear whether the board could continue paying its 80 employes or begin operating a new instant-winner game scheduled to start today.
"We intend to operate the lottery, but we do not know how it will be done," Coopersmith said. "I was never told that we would be without money . . . . I don't know how it happened."
Mayor Marion Barry, who has feuded with board members and is trying to exert control over the board, included the board's request for more funds in a supplemental budget he sent to the council in April. But the mayor made no attempt to protect the funds when council member Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6) recommended recently that they be cut.
The council deleted the funds yesterday before approving the supplemental budget on a voice vote.
"It was my impression that the mayor didn't want to save the funds for the lottery board," said one council member who asked not to be identified. "I think he wants to jam the board."
Barry said last night that the council vote indicated that "a lot of other city officials" besides him are worried about excess spending by the lottery board.
During the last three months, Barry administration officials have sharply criticized the quasi-independent board and questioned its handling of lucrative gambling contracts.
Council and lottery sources contend Barry is trying to undercut Coopersmith and other board members in an effort to either replace them or move the board's operations under the executive office of the mayor. Barry has called the board a "crazy, runaway board."
Last night, council member Betty Ann Kane (D-at large) criticized Barry on his treatment of the board.
"What Marion is doing to discredit Brant Coopersmith and that whole operation through a slick public relations job is absolutely abominable," she said. "He Barry made absolutely no effort to put the money back in" for the lottery board while he fought to restore other cuts.
Barry denied that he had encouraged the council to reject the additional funding for the board or that he had orchestrated an effort to discredit it. "I don't have to create an atmosphere" before replacing officials on city boards and commissions, he said.
Two days ago, Betsy Reveal, the mayor's budget director, gave the board a week to respond to 40 detailed questions about its operations.
Winter, who oversees the lottery board as chairman pro tem of the council and is an ally of the mayor, sent the board a stinging letter questioning the board's effectiveness. This was in sharp contrast to her praise for lottery officials at a April 27 board meeting.
The council's action yesterday occurred while Coopersmith and board member Lillian Wiggins discussed board operations in a closed, two-hour meeting on Capitol Hill with members of the House Appropriations subcommittee on the District of Columbia.
"It is my impression that the committee is very pleased with the board and has confidence in its staff," Coopersmith said after emerging from the meeting.
Rep. Julian C. Dixon (D-Calif.), chairman of the subcommittee, declined to comment on the executive session. He was unavailable later to comment on the council's action.
Council Chairman David A. Clarke said yesterday he and other council members thought until recently that the board would not need the $1.5 million after the board was forced by the mayor to put off plans to award a contract to operate a new daily numbers game this summer.
"Now it appears they're spending more money than they ought to be, and that the $1.5 million is needed more to pay personnel than to run a new lottery," Clarke said.
Lottery officials contend that they hired more employes and were spending more money than originally budgeted, but with the knowledge and approval of city budget officials. They say they did so in anticipation of the council's approving the $1.5 million budget increase.
"We had no advance warning that this would happen," Coopersmith said of the action. "If they city officials want to continue to make $1.8 million a month in lottery revenue , they ought to let us spend a couple hundred thousand dollars a month."
In other action yesterday, the council voted to grant the Barry administration authority to borrow $145 million more from the U.S. Treasury to help finance 250 ongoing construction projects.
The council had held up action on the request for a week until the mayor's budget office provided more details on the proposed use of the funds.