Tempted by rising expectations and growing revenue, the Washington area's local governments went on a spending spree in the 1980s, adding new programs and services that cannot continue in the next decade without higher taxes, according to government officials and observers.

But with the economy slumping, most of them said, it is time to put city and county goverments on a diet instead of asking taxpayers for more.

"We may have expanded too rapidly, and we started meeting the needs by adding money instead of carefully thinking of other ways to solve the problems," said Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening. "Now, we're in a situation where no one is happy about meeting shortfalls with new taxes, so most of us are going through and prioritizing and making cuts."

The combined operating budgets of the area's local governments now total almost $9.5 billion a year, a 150 percent increase from 10 years ago; inflation during the period accounted for only 58 percent of the growth.

After what economists call the "go-go '80s," local governments have entered the "hangover '90s." Across the area, governments find themselves in a deep hole: A $200 million deficit is projected in the District this year and Prince George's County expects a $50 million shortfall. Officials expect deficits next year of up to $185 million in Montgomery, $70 million in Fairfax, $33 million in Loudoun and $17 million in Prince William.

Government spending increased during the '80s in part because growing populations and a strong regional economy brought in more tax revenue. But there also were pressures for additional local government services coming from constituents who wanted or needed them or resulting from changes in federal and state programs.

A development boom added 263 million square feet of commercial space, the equivalent of more than 70 Pentagons. That boom, coupled with soaring home prices, funneled billions of dollars in new property tax revenue into local government coffers.

"The business community created an enormous pork barrel for the Board of Supervisors, and, boy, did they use it," said Earle C. Williams, president of BDM International Inc., a McLean defense contractor, and a leader of Fairfax County's business community.

"Look at what we have. People use the term 'gold-plated,' " Williams said. "What might be categorized as human services covers a lot of things that might be nice to have, but which are not really necessities."

Suburban politicians funded seemingly extravagant requests from the smallest constituencies -- photo labs and saunas in Fairfax County recreational centers and two-way radios in every school bus -- and still could cut tax rates.

"When I was a kid, I played in a gravel pit," said prominent Northern Virginia developer John T. "Til" Hazel. "Now they need lights and grading and parking lots {for ball fields}. Hell, it looks like Yankee Stadium in its heyday."

But some of the increases were driven by necessity: soaring crime in the District sharply increased the cost of law enforcement, and a population boom that brought 600,000 new people to the suburbs meant a need for new schools and libraries and more police. At the same time, local governments took on functions once shouldered by the federal government.

"There were very few petitions turned aside in the '80s for new programs," said Walter A. Scheiber, the longtime executive director of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments who is retiring Jan. 1. "It's very hard when you're a politician, if you know you have the money right now, to say, 'We can't start the program at the level you want, because we're afraid things are going to turn around in three or four years.' "

Now, some local jurisdictions will be forced to cut services at a time when the economic downturn has increased the need for government assistance. In other cases, particularly in the wealthier Capital Beltway suburbs, the cuts will be relatively painless and will reflect a new attitude among residents: that lean, cost-effective programs are preferable to world-class, state-of-the-art services.

"When the bloom is off the boom in the suburbs, they have enough margin of wealth to do belt-tightening without a lot of social services trauma," said former D.C. city administrator Thomas M. Downs III.

"In the District, when the bloom goes off, there's nothing left, so social servics will just be obliterated," Downs said. "When you're at the bottom of the barrel, there's no place else to go, not a thousand points of light, no cushion. The answer is rich people can take care of themselves, and the poor can't."

A delayed impact of the fiscal crisis is likely to be felt in public improvements -- including roads and mass transit, schools and jails, incinerators and landfills -- that are the most susceptible to the budget ax. Cutting those areas now, experts said, will leave future generations with even bigger bills to pay.

"In terms of infrastructure, and not only roads, we're so close to disaster that it is going to take massive infusions of money, and I don't know where it's going to come from," said William B. Wrench, president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade.

In looking at why local government spending grew so much, regional experts highlight the following areas:

Education. The area that has confounded government bureaucrats and politicians more than any other is school spending, where normal economies of scale do not seem to apply.

In the District, student enrollment declined 13 percent in the last decade, but school spending more than doubled, going from $250 million in fiscal 1981 to $527 million this year. In Montgomery County, according to a December 1989 task force report on the budget, "School expenditures increased 154 percent {between 1978 and 1990}, while the combined effect of inflation and enrollment change was 88 percent."

School officials complain that state and federal governments continue to impose new mandates -- more counseling and special education, lower pupil-teacher ratios, English as a second language -- without providing money to implement the programs.

There are different political imperatives too. In the District, parents are demanding that standardized test scores be raised to bring their schools up to par. In the suburbs, parents and businesses have demanded the best education systems in the nation, one of the most important "quality of life" concerns that has drawn corporate headquarters to the Washington area.

Federal aid. As part of the Reagan revolution of the early and mid-1980s, the federal government returned responsibility for many social and human service programs to the states. However, because of large federal income tax cuts and increases in the federal deficit, the states were not given enough money to fund the programs.

Prince William officials say federal aid dropped from $6.7 million in fiscal 1981 to $35,000 this year; the majority of money was cut from block grants for housing. Fairfax County posted an $8 million, or 16 percent, decline in federal funding between 1980 and 1991.

The District was particularly hard hit by the federal cutbacks, because the city does not have a state government to which it can turn to make up the difference. In 1975, for instance, the federal payment -- a block of money given to the city to compensate it for not taxing federal buildings, and for providing services to the federal government -- accounted for about 37 percent of the city's budget. Today, it covers less than 15 percent of the city's spending and has been frozen at about $430 million for the last five years.

Public Safety and Corrections. The region's drug epidemic, particularly the introduction of crack cocaine to the area in the mid-1980s, fueled an extraordinary increase in drug-related violence and death that was accompanied by a public outcry for better police protection and tougher sentences. The impact on the District's budget was devastating: the city's prison population went from about 4,000 to more than 12,000, and spending on corrections went from $76.2 million in 1981 to $252.7 million this year.

Public safety spending took off in the suburbs too, sometimes for different reasons. As the population of Prince William County grew and became more urban, pressure mounted for the Fire Department to convert from an all-volunteer service in 1981 to one that today has professionals on duty during the day, and mostly volunteers at night. The cost over the period went from $2.4 million to $10.5 million. To improve response times, safety and investigative power, Fairfax County computerized its police and fire communications system in fiscal 1988, putting computer screens in every patrol car and fire engine. The price tag: $12 million.

Human Services. With the federal government no longer funding many human services programs, with federally mandated deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill, with the region's "graying" population, and with both parents in more and more families working, demand for human services went through the roof in the 1980s.

According to the citizen budget overview commitee in Fairfax, spending on health and welfare programs rose at an annual rate of 19.2 percent between 1980 and 1989 to $146.6 million this year. That is a 480 percent increase from 1980, when $25.1 million was spent on such programs.

In 1981, the District spent no money on the homeless, compared with $11.7 million today. Similarly, the city now spends about $6 million annually on AIDS, a disease that was not widely known at the beginning of the 1980s. Funding for mental health programs increased more than fivefold, from $33.7 million in 1981 to $187.9 million today.

"The citizens demanded a high level of service -- the best roads, the quickest response time -- and the dollars were pouring in, so the politicians gave the citizens just what they wanted," said Gus Bauman, Montgomery County Planning Board chairman. "The citizens now want to cut back and streamline, and that's exactly what the politicians are going to do."