D.C. Mayor Marion Barry issued another stern warning yesterday about the city's deteriorating finances, saying his successor may be saddled with a deficit approaching $50 million, the government's most serious debt in more than a decade.
Barry told reporters during a break in his trial on perjury and drug charges that he is preparing to cut his administration's budget by about $45 million, a cost-saving measure that will erase only about half of the government's currently projected $90 million deficit.
Barry, whose repeated calls for higher taxes this year have been rebuffed by the D.C. Council, said his inability to raise revenue could have a devastating impact this summer and next year, when a new mayor succeeds him.
"Whoever's mayor next time is going to have a hell of a time trying to make this city work," Barry said. "We may even run out of money this year, quite frankly."
As if to dramatize his point, Barry disclosed that one of his first budget cuts will be to shave a week off a seven-week summer youth employment program, a longtime pet project of the mayor's that he highlighted yesterday during a lunchtime news conference near the U.S. District Court building, where he is standing trial.
Although Barry said during the news conference that he was merely considering the one-week cut to save money, he indicated immediately afterward that he had already made such a decision.
"We've just done something I don't want to do: Cut a week off our summer job program," Barry said. "I don't want to do that, but there's no money."
The summer employment program, which is financed by $6.1 million in federal funds and $5 million in city money, will provide 16,621 young people with mostly minimum-wage jobs. More than 2,000 other jobs created by the program went begging, in part because of the shrinking size of the District's teenage population, officials said.
Barry also blamed a poor "work ethic" among some young people for the excess of jobs, saying many are dazzled by fancy clothes and jewelry and want only to "start at the top" of the career ladder. The mayor also said the city's drug "epidemic" kept some teenagers away from the program.
"A lot of our young people don't see a way out of where they are," Barry said.
Speaking later about budget issues, Barry said overspending by the Department of Human Services, the city's largest agency, will constitute the greatest part of the estimated $50 million deficit.
"The $45 million that DHS is going to have to spend this year can't be made up," Barry said, leaving the city "with easily a $45 million to $50 million deficit -- the first time this has happened with this magnitude since I've been mayor."
Barry, who won high marks early in his administration for bringing order to the city's finances, has in recent weeks sounded several warnings about what he describes as the city government's worsening fiscal health.
For instance, the mayor said yesterday there is a chance that a month from now city employees will not be paid because the government may have run out of cash by then.
"What I'm afraid of is sometime -- latter part of August, early part of September -- the city literally runs out of money, cannot meet its payroll . . . . All this is like putting off for another day the inevitable."