HOW TERRIBLY thoughtful of the D.C. Council to consider legislation that would give Marion Barry, David Clarke, Betty Ann Kane and Nadine Winter little bundles of goodbye cash as compensation for their losses at the polls this year. Here's a city scratching for cash, unable to pay its own bills to Metro on time and wondering if it can even cover the payroll for next year -- and the council is toying with "emergency legislation" to provide "severance pay" of $50,000 to help defeated politicians find their way in the real world. Forget it -- these are parachutes with not nearly enough strings attached. Money for closing costs -- detailed in expense accounts -- is one thing; cash without conditions quite another.

There is an important distinction between transition funds -- itemized by amounts for postage, mailing, necessary support staff, office supplies and phone bills -- and lump sums as gifts. Pensions and/or other formal plans associated with government service might well be made a part of the compensation for any employee in a full-time, nonelective office -- but why improvise booby prizes for political candidates who fail in their bids to stay on the city payroll or who choose to leave it to run for a federal office?

The legitimate costs of leaving office should of course be covered -- just as those of the incoming administration should be. On this point, the council is considering legislation to provide mayor-elect Sharon Dixon with $150,000 -- which, unlike the ill-proposed "severance" deals, would be itemized -- according to Dixon aides, who also say they might well not use the full amount. Already this staff has found donated office space, surplus furnishings and even some supplies. But staff compensation, phone bills and money to cover air fares and other costs of interviewing certain national contenders for work in the city government are common expenses of any new administration.

If the council members who are staying on really like staying on, they may want to think about their taxpaying constituents, about the symbolism of these proposed payoffs -- and about the quickest way to kill this proposal in favor of compensation for itemized costs of leaving city hall.