A D.C. Council budget study says the District could be facing a revenue shortfall this year of nearly $200 million -- about $40 million more than previously suggested by Mayor Marion Barry, who recently ordered agencies to follow new austerity measures.
The council study was released at a public hearing in which Barry administration officials repeatedly declined to answer specific questions about what programs or policies may be cut to help make up the shortfall.
The hearing also revealed divisions between Council Chairman David A. Clarke -- who called the hearing -- and council member John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2), chairman of the Finance and Revenue Committee.
While Clarke pressed Richard C. Siegel, the mayor's budget director, to be more specific about potential cuts, Wilson said it was too early for such details and thanked the administration for at least beginning to address what all seemed to agree is a serious problem in the city's $2.6 billion operating budget.
Siegel wrote an Oct. 20 memo from Barry ordering department heads to delay personnel hirings and to prepare lists of potential budget cuts of 10 percent in their agencies.
When council member Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large) asked yesterday if the council could see the lists, Siegel refused. Kane later said she got "no clear answer" on how the mayor would carry out budget cuts.
Clarke called the hearing to determine the scope of the city's budget problems. According to the mayor's office, the budget for fiscal 1988, which began Oct. 1, does not include funds for about $66 million in expected pay raises and another $40 million in additional public safety spending.
The council analysis, prepared by council budget director Arthur Blitzstein, showed in addition that the District may collect about $10 million less in sales taxes than expected, and that public safety agencies may need about $18 million more than the $40 million Barry projected.
Another consideration included in the council analysis was the budgetary requirement that the city retire $20 million of its accumulated deficit this year, even as the District faces potential cuts of about $40 million in federal funds because of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings budget deficit reduction act.
Barry and Wilson have ruled out suggesting tax increases and the council twice previously rejected efforts by Barry in 1987 to raise income taxes. "The last tax struggle we went through with the mayor has put us in the driver's seat," Wilson said later of budget deliberations. "We've got to learn how to be the driver."
Although Siegel responded to most questions in only general terms, Clarke elicited a few specifics. Siegel acknowledged that the Barry administration has underfunded public safety agencies for several years, but he would not say that it was done purposefully to free up money for other programs.
Siegel said the city's subsidy for Metro, which is expected to grow about $7 million this year, is being reviewed, but he would not say whether other specific programs were exempt from cuts, including Medicaid, subsidies for D.C. General Hospital, payment to retirement funds or general public assistance, among others.
Wilson said Barry faces "massive political problems" in deciding what economies to make in the budget. "I would assume politically the mayor would want the council to vote on some of the adjustments."