THERE MAY NEVER be a budget that everybody loves, and the spending proposals just approved by the D.C. Council are no exception. Still, once the school system adjusts to the splitting of the difference between its request and what Mayor Barry proposed in response, city taxpayers may discover that the council not only worked efficiently and thoughtfully on the entire budget but also improved on the version submitted by the mayor. Much credit for this responsible process goes to the new chairman, David Clarke, and to John Wilson, chairman of the finance and revenue committee, who coordinated more than a few agreements and commitments between council members and the mayor.
In reaching agreement on a school budget compromise, the council members succeeded in avoiding any damaging jurisdictional clashes with the school board, which remains free to allocate its money as it determines.And in spite of earlier predictions of dire consequences if the city didn't approve every dollar sought by the schools, board members are now saying that teacher layoffs should not be necessary, though there may be some shortages of books and supplies. It could well be, too, that consolidations of schools and a few other moves may help on this score.
Another matter of legitimate concern to the school board has been resolved by a council decision to continue the citywide public school transportation subsidy, which Mayor Barry sought to cut. The council also found ways to provide more money than the mayor proposed for aid to people out of work because of disabilities; treatment for the mentally retarded; medical expenses of the poor; job training; assistance to low-income families buying homes, and tuberculosis clinics.
Of symbolic if not major financial significance is the council's insistence on earmarking $5.5 million in the budget to help retire the city's long-term debt. Mr. Barry, who used to stress the importance of annual payments toward this end, had included nothing for it in his budget.
Now, there is the matter of revenue. Mr. Barry has proposed a package of measures to save money and increase taxes, which is now before the council. Here, too, council members are saying there is a consensus that they hope will hold. But there is one proposal they should drop in favor of some substitute move: Mr. Barry seeks to shift about $12 million in street lighting costs from the city to the utility bills of District users. How this would be administered with anything resembling equitable treatment is totally unclear. (What happens if every homeowner switches to gaslight?)
For now, Mr. Clarke has come through his first test of leadership impressively, and, in assisting the process, all the council members have acted responsibly as well. Perhaps this new council spirit will last long enough to become a reputation.