After Marion Barry took office in 1979, he spent his first two years digging out of the financial rubble left by his predecessor: He ordered the first audit of the District's books, slashed programs and enacted the first and only reduction in the city work force of his nearly 12-year tenure.

It now appears that Barry's successor will inherit a similar mess when that person takes over in January.

With the city's bond rating down and projected budget deficits hovering around the $90 million mark, the parallels between the city's dismal fiscal posture in 1979 and 1990 are striking.

Barry's would-be successors are offering a range of solutions to the fiscal crisis.

Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D-D.C.) has called for a federal bailout of the city's treasury, while lawyer Sharon Pratt Dixon pledges to cut 2,000 managers from the government payroll.

D.C. Council Chairman David A. Clarke (D) and council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4) promise to institute management audits of city agencies to trim the fat from the bureaucracy, while council member John Ray promises to eliminate $200 million a year in wasteful government spending.

Meanwhile, former police chief Maurice T. Turner Jr., the only Republican in the race, said he will take a hard look at spending for the homeless and other human service programs, which he said are "bankrupting the city."

On at least one issue, most of the candidates seem to agree: They don't want new taxes. However, Ray and Clarke refuse to rule out the possibility of new taxes to help offset projected budget deficits.

Clarke said he would support a new tax on public utilities to finance salary increases for city teachers. Ray said he would support more taxes only as a last resort.

"I can't see going to the public for more taxes in the first couple of years," Ray said. He said personal property and income taxes would remain untouched.

The campaign rhetoric has prompted some skepticism among finance experts. While each candidate has promised to trim the District's bureaucracy and improve government efficiency, few have cited specific programs and services they intend to cut.

At the same time, the candidates have promised a raft of new programs -- from drug treatment, education and housing programs to measures to improve conditions for children -- but have not explained how they would pay for them.

"In terms of what I've heard, I don't think that {candidates} understand the gravity of the problem," said council member John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2), chairman of the council's Finance and Revenue Committee and a candidate for council chairman.

"The question is not what are we going to do in the future, the question is what we can afford to do," Wilson said. "We'll have a hard time holding on to what we currently have."

The candidates are a mixed lot in terms of managerial experience and familiarity with budget issues.

As council chairman for the last eight years, Clarke has headed the committee with overall responsibility for reviewing the mayor's annual budget. Two years ago he issued a "white paper" expressing concern about the growth of the city's work force and debt. Ray and Jarvis also are veterans of the council budget review process, with special expertise in select city agencies under their committees' purview.

Fauntroy has devoted considerable time in recent years to trying to persuade Congress to increase the annual federal payment to the District, now about $430.5 million. As police chief, Turner headed one of the city's largest departments, with an annual budget in excess of $200 million.

Dixon has no government experience, although she touts her management background as a vice president of the Potomac Electric Power Co.

"The government is too top-heavy," Dixon said. "We've got too many people managing too few people." Dixon has calculated that her plan for reducing the work force by 2,000 would result in savings of $50 million to $100 million.

While most experts agree the city's 48,000-member payroll needs to be reduced, Dixon's proposal illustrates the gap between the rhetoric and the realities of decreasing the District government, according to some critics.

Dixon said she would fire 2,000 of the 6,000 "non-tenured" managers, who lack civil service protection, without affecting critical services.

But some of the city's financial managers question Dixon's assumptions. According to Robert Pohlman, the deputy mayor for finance, there are only 2,250 "temporary" and "term" employees under the mayor's direct control who don't come under civil service.

Pohlman said many of those employees are low-level service providers in the Departments of Recreation, Public Works and other agencies, not middle- and upper-level managers as Dixon contends.

The other candidates, while advocating austerity, have offered few specifics of how they would cut the budget.

Ray has promised to eliminate D.C. government waste, which he says approaches $200 million annually. He cites expensive contracts for shelters for the homeless and road repairs, but concedes that it is "difficult to put {my} finger" on other types of waste.

As for programs he would cut, Ray says only, "You've got to put all the big programs on the table, and you're got to figure out priorities."

Jarvis said she intends to examine expenditures on housing and job training programs, which she described as more generous than those of most other cities. "We're going to have to review these very important programs and determine if we can support them," she said.

Jarvis declined to commit herself to deep cuts, adding that she would look toward efficiencies, such as paying the insurance premiums of AIDS patients to make sure they don't fall on the public medical rolls.

Clarke said he would first seek to eliminate positions in top-heavy agencies. As examples, he noted that the city's budget books show 24 people in the director's office at the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, and 43 people in the Department of Administrative Services listed as directors or associate directors.

But Clarke ruled out a formal reduction in force, saying it would unfairly penalize workers. He said he plans to decrease the government through attrition.

Fauntroy, in a white paper on city finances, has called for a sharp increase in the annual federal payment to the District, as well as a special $600 million appropriation to improve the city's computers, roads and other infrastructure. He also urged a congressional relaxation of the ban on taxing suburban residents working in the city.

While Fauntroy says he would not increase taxes on city residents -- saying that D.C. citizens already are "taxed to the limit" -- he promised to institute a worker evaluation system that would permit the city to fire incompetent employees within 90 days of proposed termination.

Turner also emphasized his opposition to new taxes, while citing the need "to clean house" in government.