IT WASN'T enough that Marion Barry turned the months of his indictment and trial on drug and perjury charges into a stage from which to lecture the city on personal morality. Now in a similar perversion of responsibility, he seeks to remake the D.C. government's fiscal crisis into a soapbox on fiscal responsibility.
The man who more than any other created the present fiscal mess held a news conference Tuesday to chastise his would-be successors for the weakness of their proposals to cure it. The city, he said, now expects to finish the fiscal year Sept. 30 with a $93 million deficit, largest in years. "The District is in a financial crisis as never before," the mayor intoned, and something has to be done.
He's right, of course -- and right as well that the proposed cures are mostly too pallid. The only thing left out of his recital was on whose watch the crisis has occurred. The mayor brazenly positioned himself instead as fiscal savior; only he was proposing a sufficient combination of tax increases and spending cuts to balance the books.
Some 48,000 people now work for the city government. That's equivalent to about one city employee for every 13 city residents. The government is bloated, and the candidates for mayor have understandably said the bloat should be a first target. If cutting excess jobs won't solve the fiscal problem, it is a necessary first step toward restoring the government's credibility as well as reducing costs.
The mayor responds as loftily to this call for discipline as he has to calls for discipline of a personal kind. "Those who would have you believe we can eliminate thousands of managers" -- an excess of upper-middle managers is the most common charge -- "without affecting service delivery are misleading the public," maintains the mayor.
He says the problem is lagging economic growth and a rising demand for services, but that is only another way of saying that his original budget contained a puffy view of revenues while minimizing costs. "They can pass it off on mismanagement," the mayor says of the candidates now criticizing his record. "They can say the Barry administration was neglectful, which is not true." And his proof that he has managed well? No matter what anyone does, the city next year "is going to run out of money" and need a tax increase.
Quite likely it will, but since when is the need for a tax increase atop belated spending cuts the symbol of fiscal rectitude this mayor would make it? Mr. Barry, having brought the city into disrepute, should give up the lectureship on the budget as well as the job of mayor.