HERE'S HOW to play the budget game. You are in the Barry administration and you realize that the District government has a budget crisis. But taxes can't be raised without setting off political alarms in the business community, and city programs can't be cut without demontrators' blocking the doors of the District Building. So what do you do? Why, you threaten to cahrge 10-year-olds a fee for playing baseball on public playgrounds; threaten to charge old people, the hanicappe dand the retared for bus rides; threaten to charge teen-agers for the rock groups and puppet shows that tour the city in the summer. This may seem to outlandish to propose, but the District government is considering just such a proposal.
The predictable public response to this ploy is outrage. And as the outrage rows, there will be da softening of oppostion to tax increases and cuts in city programs. And whenever critics ask what the city government has done to bear its fair share of the budget crisis, the administration can say, "We even tried to charge little kids for playing baseball." With such proof of the sacrifices they tried to make, city officials can then ask the federal government and taxpayers to save the little children.
What the Barry administration and anyone else trying this gambit must remember is to not announce how little money would be earned by taking nickels and dimes out of childrens pockets. If people know that it will not produce a quarter of one percent of the money needed to pay off the city's $400 million deficit, then they may realize that it's more drama than it is effective action. In fact, city officials admit that charging fees for recreation sercives -- with the attendant meters, fee collectors and administrative overhead -- could end up costing more money than it takes in. All the fees would accomplish is to keep children off ballfields and to hide the fact that the city government is refusing to fire employees and cut programs -- refusing to make the tough decisions that will get spending in line with the city's income.
The recreation department's proposal should be rejected by Mayor Barry. Age talks with city employees threaten soon to increase the size of the deficit, so real action must be taken to cut large parts of the budget. When it comes to recreation programs, it is reasobable to charge for some classes, for the use of auditoriums and for music equipment. But providing a place for poor chilren to play must be regarded a priority city service. And that service should not be cut so adults can play at politics.