AFTER A MONTH in office and with red ink necessarily coloring every policy decision, Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon and D.C. Council Chairman John A. Wilson are in something less than agreement about how to balance the government's books for the fiscal year that will end Sept. 30. Mr. Wilson, known for fiscal knowledge and candor but never much for diplomacy, at one point recently labeled Mrs. Dixon's budget-balancing proposals as "unrealistic" and has now outlined his own separate plan, which includes new and higher taxes. Mrs. Dixon, commenting that "taxes are not creative, innovative or an imaginative option," says she's sticking with her no-taxes approach, which includes a call for $100 million more from Congress. Mayor Dixon's plan is the logical one to start with. Mr. Wilson's is the fallback position. But that's not the way they see it.
Mayor Dixon so far is playing down the differences. "I think Mr. Wilson and I are on the same page. We just have different styles, that's all. I welcome all of his ideas." This has been the mayor's approach throughout a string of valuable visits she has been making on Capitol Hill. Her proposal, in essence, is to meet an estimated deficit this year of $300 million through budget cuts and user fees totaling $200 million and the $100 million she seeks from the federal government.
Chairman Wilson is less concerned about papering over differences. He questions Mayor Dixon's ability to persuade Congress to deliver on any support offered her. His proposal includes $46 million in new local revenue and calls for no pay raises, no overtime, no promotions, no paid lunch breaks and a reallocation of $35 million in current federal funding for the District -- as well as no annual payment to Congress on a previous long-term deficit that the city has been paying off over the years.
Who's right? Each has a part of it. Mayor Dixon is absolutely on the mark in her pursuit of $100 million from Congress. Any way you calculate what the federal government should be paying this city to compensate for all its tax-exempt property, all the services rendered and all the shortchanging of those payments over recent years, this $100 million is a most modest and thoroughly justified request. The chances of getting that additional amount may not be good, but that doesn't mean they are zero and that the effort should not be made. Chairman Wilson also is wise to brace everyone for the possibility, anyhow, of some new taxing -- not real estate, not income, but perhaps sales, personal property, a property tax on utilities and -- for the next fiscal year -- perhaps some form of professional tax. But we don't think the time is yet.
It's indisputable that this city has a large, immediate deficit, an even more frightening deficit in the offing for the year that will begin Oct. 1, and a staggering liability beyond that for unfunded pensions recklessly established and adorned over decades with the complicity of Congress, local labor leaders and city administrations that failed for all sorts of reasons to address the problem seriously. Mayor Dixon and Chairman Wilson have this in common: both recognize that drastic actions are in order -- that spending cuts have to come first. The mayor sees them as the predicate for a higher federal contribution; Mr. Wilson believes local tax increases should accompany the cuts. Congress, the White House and the taxpayers of this city will demand evidence of serious local action to deal with the deficit if they are to contribute more. The differences between the mayor and the council chairman are not irreconcilable, and we hope they can be amicably resolved. Once a budget proposal has been enacted by the city government, it will need the undivided support of the mayor, the chairman and the council members as it moves to the Hill.