Controllers and budget analysts for several D.C. government agencies, which Mayor Marion Barry has said are on their way to overspending their budgets by a total of more than $50 million this fiscal year, last week flatly denied that any such overspending is taking place,
"I don't know what the hell they're talking about," said Mike Hagstad, head of the Office of Budget, Data Analysis for the D.C. Department of Corrections. Barry administration officials said last week they project the prison system will have a $5 million deficit by the end of the fiscal year.
"I check these numbers every day, and we don't show any deficit for this year. If they can go and put out numbers without talking to people first and making sense then I feel free to say someone must be playing games," said Hagstad.
Elijah Rogers, the city administrator, declined to make himself available to comment on the apparent discrepancy between the city's official figures and the budget numbers compiled by agencies themselves.
Annette Samuels, the mayor's press secretary, said: "Why don't you just trust us? We're not going to say any more about the budget."
Last week, Barry told a press conference that he had this year's budget problems under control and that his administration would not repeat its performance during the 1980 budget crisis, when several times it changed its estimates of the budget deficit and proposed half a dozen different solutions to the problem.
According to a letter Barry sent to City Council Chairman Arrington Dixon last weekend, the city is in danger of running a $110 million deficit for the current fiscal year, with over half the potential deficit -- $58.9 million -- coming in overspending by city agencies.
The overspending, Barry said, is taking place primarily in corrections ($5 million); the Department of Housing and Community Development ($6 million); and in various programs of the Department of Human Services such as Medicaid ($12.3 million), foster care ($7 million) and administrative costs ($26.3 million).
Sharon Gilliam, head of the budget office for the Department of Housing and Community Development, said she did not know the basis of the mayor's prediction of $6 million in overspending.
"We don't have any projected deficit," she said. "I saw that they said we had a deficit, but I don't know what they are talking about."
Later, after she said she had called the city's budget office, Gilliam said Barry's budget aides had mistakenly asssumed that the department was not receiving federal funding which, in fact, it is receiving. She again stressed that her department has no projected deficit.
Two budget officials in the Department of Human Services, the city's largest agency, disputed the administration's contention that Medicaid, foster care or administrative costs in their department are on course for a deficit. The officials asked not to be identified. They said they were told not to talk about their internal budget projections and to refer all press inquiries to city administrator Rogers, who declined to accept several phone calls to discuss the issue.
"We don't show any deficit for any program or for our administrative costs," said one DHS budget official. "They are not getting their information from here. I don't know where else it could have come from, but we don't have a deficit now and we don't have any projections of a deficit. That's all I'm saying because I stay out of politics."
Barry's projections were supported in part by an independent report released last Monday that estimated the city would have a deficit of $109 million by the end of the fiscal year.
However, the report, issued by a Greater Washington Research Center task force chaired by former World Bank president Robert S. McNamara, was based on information provided by the Barry administration, according to Atlee E. Shidler, executive vice president of the center.
"My understanding is that we never spoke to the individual departments about their budgets but only to the mayor's budget office," said Shidler. Gladys Mack, the director of the city's budget office, was out of town, as was Philip Dearborn, the author of the report. Neither could be reached for comment.
The report based its projection of a deficit on a slowing rate of growth in the city's revenues, particularly in federal aid. According to the report, actual tax revenues to the city will barely outpace inflation while spending -- particularly for subsidies to Metro and employe pensions -- continues to rise, creating deficits for the next several years.
But the report does not specify where overspending in the city government is taking place currently.
Barry's warning of the projected deficit, which amounts to more than 5 percent of the city's budget, has stirred deep concern that tax increases or layoffs of city employes -- or both -- will be necessary before the fiscal year ends next Sept. 30.
Barry has promised there will be no layoffs of city workers, and has said he will propose no new taxes, although he left himself the option of signing a tax increase into law if the City Council proposes it first.
Jacqueline Helm, the clerk of the council's Finance and Revenue Committee, said the committee has not been told specifically where the projected deficit exists.
"I can't say if they are telling the truth because all they've said is that they have a deficit," said Helm. "They haven't given us any more information." The finance committee is chaired by John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2), who was unavailable for comment.
Other persons familiar with the city's budget also had questions about the mayor's budget figures.
"The mayor may have blown up the numbers to create a worst-case situation," said Matthew Watson, the former city auditor who still keeps close tabs on the city budget. "That would allow him to say how well he did after the deficit is averted -- if there ever was a deficit."