THE DISTRICT government is running out of time. In the seven months remaining in this fiscal year, city officials will have to find some way to close a deficit gap estimated by the city's budget office to be about $175 million. Every day that passes means that city officials have less time to save that money out of the current $1.4 billion budget. Every day that passes also means there is less time to raise money through new taxes. Mayor Barry must propose what he plans to do now so there will be time to understand the plan and properly deal with it. A hurried, last-minute effort could create more problems than it solves.
Now is also the time for the mayor to be frank with city residents about the magnitude of the budget trouble. The mayor has had some idea of the city's financial ailments since last September, when the city was unable to repay a $20 million loan. This January he said a drop in revenues and other problems left the city with a $29 million deficit. This month he has publicly revised that figure to at least $92 million. Various city council members and city officials have other estimates of the size of the deficit. There is a need for Mr. Barry to clear up the muddle and present an understandable account of the city's financial condition. Philadelphia Mayor William Green recently gave a state of the city address on TV in his city to pinpoint the cause and planned resolution of Philadelphia's financial troubles. Mayor Barry should do the same.
While there is a need for the mayor to say more, there is a need for Rep. Charles Wilson (D-Tex.) to say less. Mr. Wilson told reporters recently that Congress is not going to give the city the remainder of the federal payment to help the city out of its money difficulties (some of which Congress itself contributed to over the years). Congress could give the city at least $62 million without exceeding the $300 million appropriated for this year's city budget under the federal government's payment to the city. f
Now that the city is in desperate need of the money -- largely because of court rulings that some city taxes are illegal and not because of frivolous spending -- Rep. Wilson declines to help the city. He refuses to come forward with the money, and instead points a finger at city officials, accusing them of poor fiscal management. Rep. Wilson should note that the federal payment to the city five years ago was authorized at $230 million, an amount almost equal to this year's total payment. The size of the federal payment five years ago was 25 percent of the whole budget. Now the federal payment is only 17 percent of the budget. Instead of bad-mouthing city officials, Rep. Wilson should use his energy to help the city out.