NOW THAT EVERY financial expert within a six-cab-zone radius of city hall has warned that the District is heading for hard budget times, what are the prospects of tax increases? Ask Mayor Barry, which is what reporters did at his press conference the other day, and you get this take-charge response: he doesn't see a need to propose any tax increases for D.C. residents -- unless, of course, the council sees a need, initiates some tax-increase proposal and sends it to him for signature.

Ask the council's financial point-man, John Wilson, and he is equally forceful and leaderly (new word). Mr. Wilson says he doesn't see any reason to propose any tax increases -- unless, of course, Mayor Barry sees a need, initiates some tax-increase proposal and sends it to the council for action.

So much for political grit and statesmanship. What about cuts in municipal spending to stem the projected tide of red ink? From the same deep-sand vantage point comes an executive view that no layoffs of city workers are on the horizon, that the mayor sees no need for cuts in education, corrections, the police force or the fire department. Other departments? Mr. Barry says he will release a plan in January, that hiring cuts and lower budget limits have been issued.

In the meantime, according to Mr. Barry's press office, his transition team (that's for his transition to a new term in January) is polling city residents on their feelings toward possible increases in various taxes and fees.

Now, how many taxpayers do you know who relish the prospect of higher taxes? We haven't seen any early returns from the polling, but what do you bet that your average taxpayer will fail to see a need to request a higher tax burden--unless, of course, the mayor or the council goes ahead and enacts a proposal and sends the bill for payment.

Something's got to give--and it won't be the federal government. Somebody should face the music, and a newly elected mayor is in the best of uncomfortable spots to do so. The potential severity of this city's financial condition -- and the unpleasant steps that may have to be taken to avoid disaster -- should be set forth for all to see and grasp.

For example, one set of options might include laying off workers or cutting their scheduled pay increases or changing their costliest work rules and fringe benefits. Another choice might be between raising the gasoline and sales taxes and curbing future cost-of-living increases for local government retirees.

Faced with the cold fiscal facts, people may at least understand austerity moves even if they don't like them. Is there a leader anywhere around here?