The chairman of the House District Appropriations subcommittee said yesterday that Congress will not bail the District of Columbia out of its growing financial crisis.
"I can't help but to say, 'I told you so,'" Rep. Charles Wilson (D-Tex.) said in an interview yesterday. "Their idea of fiscal autonomy is to do what they want to and then have Congress pick up the check for the difference. Well, that's not going to happen; that's not going to ever happen."
The city is now estimated to have a deficit of at least $84.5 million in its $1.4 billion budget for the current fiscal year.
Mayor Marion Barry, seeking the remainder of a $300 million authorized federal payment, is expected to ask Congress next week for at least $62 million in supplemental funds to help fill the budget gap.
Wilson indicated yesterday that it is unlikely that he will be sympathetic to that request.
"Any supplemental appropriation is problematical," Wilson said. "We appropriated what we thought was appropriate. You never appropriate all that is authorized . . . You will stay a mess in the city until you face up to the fact that there are 44,000 people doing what 30,000 could do."
Wilson's remarks were echoed in milder but consistent concerns voiced by D.C. business leaders, municipal money watchers, other members of Congress and White House aides, who said the city's present financial situation is confusing and potentially dangerous.
"There is clearly a growing sense that the problem is fairly acute," said John Tydings, executive vice-president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade. "It's really fair to say that there's a real apprehension that to just throw more taxes on the business community will be the mayor's gap-filler."
Rep. Herbert Harris (D-Va.), a member of the House District Committee and a frequent supporter of the District of Columbia, was among several persons who suggested that the financial crisis at the District Building could hamper the city's efforts to obtain full budget autonomy by 1982.
"No question that if anyone thought that it would happen soon, this won't help," Harris said yesterday.
James Dyke, special assistant to Vice President Mondale, said that the Carter administration had no intention of withdrawing its support from the full budget autonomy proposal, nor of backing away from its efforts to win for the city a long sought fixed formula for the annual federal payment. t
However, one White House aide, who asked not to be named, said, "It seems like a serious problem. They're going to have to do some real work to pull out of it."
Philip M. Dearborn, vice president of the Center for Municipal and Metropolitan Research here and a perennial monitor of the city's financial status, said handling of the budget crisis could be critical to the city's self-autonomy.
"Nothing could be a greater strain on home rule," Dearborn said, "than for the city to go into a financial emergency."
Mayor Barry was unavailable to comment late yesterday, but budget director Gladys W. Mack said specific proposals to fill this year's budget gap would be presented to the City Council next week.
"When the community at large simply gets an understanding of all the numbers that have been circulating around, it will become clear that we have defined the problem, are moving to solve it and have it under control," Mack said.
The Barry administration disclosed Jan. 23 that it was facing a potential gap of $29 million in the budget for the current fiscal year. Most of the deficit was attributed to a shortfall in anticipated parking revenues and a court ruling nullifying early payment of $20 million in real estate taxes.
Later, another court order invalidated a four-year-old business and professional tax and the mayor's office disclosed large potential over-spending in key city agencies. Members of the City Council also noted that there was no money available for already-obligated pension payments, pay raises and other programs.
By the end of last week, Barry and Council members Betty Ann Kane (D-at large) and John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2), were all at odds over the size of the deficit. Estimates ranged from $29 million to as much as $250 million.
Barry said last week that he is considering several possible ways of filling the gap, including a new tax on the services of professionals and persons in trades, such as barbers, beauticians and dry cleaners. Also under consideration are an increase in the city's property tax rate, unpaid furloughs for city employes and unspecified program cuts.
Later this week, Barry is expected to issued an executive order that would impose a near-total hiring freeze on the city government.
In the interview yesterday, Wilson used the current fiscal problems in the District of Columbia to reassert his call for a smaller city payroll, and to voice his opposition to the city's current worker's compensation laws, which business leaders vehemently argue are too generous and too lax.
An aide to Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), Wilson's counterpart in the Senate, said Leahy was taking a cautious attitude. "We'll wait to see what they send up," said John Gnorski.
The major cause of the deficit appeared to be court decisions, Gnorski said. "The $29 million was a big enough problem. The bigger it gets, it doesn't make any difference," he said.
Earlier, Leahy had signed a letter written by Gnorski that termed the mayor's potential handling of the budget problem "a test of your administration." The letter suggested that "the manner in which the budget problems are overcome should be a turning point for budget autonomy and true home rule."
Municipal money monitor Dearborn, while not literally agreeing with Leahy yesterday, said Barry's proposals would have to be very detailed to quell the serious concerns about the city's financial state.
"This, 'We're gonna have a job freeze' isn't an adequate answer," Dearborn said. Exact savings and agency reduction targets would have to be included, he said.
"If he lays out a reasonable and practical, sound solution and he can put in into effect, it seems to me it shouldn't be troubling," Dearborn said. "If he doesn't I'll be out in front saying, 'Look, we ought to do something different,'" Dearborn said.
Dearborn and others noted that municipal money woes are a problem common to many governments these days. That also is one of the responses that aides to Del. Walter E. Fountroy (D-D.C.) said they have been receiving on Capitol Hill.
The fact that there has been loud public disagreement among Barry, Kane and Wilson (who is chairman of the Council's finance and revenue committee) on the amount of the deficit, has led some to say, "Not only have they mucked it up, but they can't cout, either," a Fauntroy aide said.
Budget director Mack blamed much of the confusion on the news media, which, she said, had been "picking up new numbers" from various sources and printing them as it they were fact.