MAYOR BARRY has finally announced a plan to deal with the city's prospective budget deficit. Since the city's financial problems became known, officials have offered different and confusing assesments of the size of the rouble but no proposals for remedying it. The mayor's strong statement of the size of the potential shortfall (about $172 million, he now says), and what he intends to do to meet it, is as welcome as it is necessary -- even if some of the particulars are unclear or unsatisfactory.
High on the list of dubious financial cuts proposed by the mayor is the closing of 21 recreation centers and reduction of the time 52 other centers are open. The savings that would accure from this action must be balanced against the loss of a place to play for the city's large number of low-income children. Does the mayor really want bored and restless young people walking the streets with little to do? For a mayor who came to this city and made a major project out of helping poor and left-out youth, this cut should be unacceptable. similarly, saving money by taking away about 1,000 summer jobs from young people would seem to be attempting to solve one problem by creating another.
While the mayor has proposed cutting too deeply into city services that touch the lives of poor children, Mr. Barry may not have cut deeply enough in other areas. His prosposals do not include ways to pay almost $40 million that will be owed to Metro by the end of this month; nor is there money to repay professional taxes that have been thrown out by the court, although the mayor hopes to borrow money if the city has to repay these amounts this year. Also, the mayor has not provided for money to repay the U.S. Treasury for another $40 million borrowed by the city government.
By leaving these debts unattended, the mayor's total amount of immediate cash needed comes to $92 million. He says he will get that money by raising $20 million in taxes, hiring additional tax officers to col- lect an added $6 million, increasing parking fines and user fees on city facilities to raise about $4 million and asking Congress for the remainder of the authorized federal payment to the city, $62 million. We supprot the mayor in these steps. His effort to get the full authorized payment for the city is especially important. That money is not a bail-out, as some have called it; it should be the city's to use.
Though the amounts raised by these measures would help the city meet immediate needs, we suggest that the mayor go further. A large-scale reduction in the city's work force is necessary. The mayor has begun through attrition to save money, but more can be done. A second step would be to increase the city's gasoline tax from 10 cents to 24 cents. A third would be to press the school board to close 18 school buildings that the superintendent has proposed be shut. And if these measures are not enough, a gross-receipts tax on businesses or professionals may be necessary. A one-time increase in property-tax payments -- of, say, 10 cents per $100 of assessed valued -- is another possible option.
The city's residents already are among the most highly taxed in the country. Increased taxes are not a pleasant prospect. But increases or one-time taxes imposed now are preferable to a prolonged period of financial problems. The D.C. council and Congress should keep this in mind before rejecting out of hand any of the mayor's proposals. He has addressed these questions seriously and responsibly and is owed a comparable -- and quick -- response.