MAYOR BARRY'S THREAT to veto the city budget disappeared in a cloud of bluster yesterday when he discovered that D.C. Council Chairman Clarke not only can add and subtract responsibly, but also can count noses: the votes to override were there. The difference, which is what should interest taxpayers and other users of city services, was never great in dollars--the council's increases in spending over the mayor's proposals amounted to three-eighths of 1 percent of the total budget of nearly $2 billion--nor did the council commit any atrocities of illegality, as Mr. Barry had charged. While some people may not like the way some money is or isn't allocated, neither the mayor nor the council has acted irresponsibly.
Now to the revenue side of the picture. Here, too, Chairman Clarke and John Wilson, who heads the finance and revenue committee, had the votes as well as the written assurances to the mayor that a tax package to balance the budget would be approved in proper compliance with the law. The council had balanced its version of the budget with revenue estimates based not on its own guesses of what might be raised but on estimates and numbers from the executive branch and the D.C. Lottery Board.
Here's how an estimated net increase of $7.4 million would be raised to meet the council's total: by bringing the District's income tax form in line with the federal tax form, $3 million would be raised; another $2.5 million would come from the lottery, if started promptly; and about $1.9 million could be shifted from the convention center budget to general funds by delaying the purchase of a kitchen.
The council did cut as well as increase other spending proposals of the mayor. For example, the advisory neighborhood commissions would get what they got last year--around $1 million--instead of twice as much; and across-the-board adjustments in energy costs, based on estimates of the department of general services, could yield $3.9 million.
An increase for the school board split the difference between the board's request and the mayor's figure--a compromise the mayor had agreed to and that the school board accepts. Another council move was to earmark $5.5 million to help retire the city's long-term debt. Mr. Barry, who in the past made much of the need to make annual payments, had allocated nothing for this in his budget.
Revenue estimates, of course, are just that; here, as anywhere, they are subject to national economic conditions that have defied many experts. For that matter, the District's estimates have been as good as those in Annapolis or Richmond--which still doesn't preclude "shortfalls" or "surpluses" that must be addressed. The city's flattened property tax picture, for example, may require some increase in the rate, unless revenues from sales and user fees start to pick up.
But the business of this budget isn't over yet. The White House and Congress get their turns. What they should find is a financially responsible job that will stand up under scrutiny.