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Mr. Sneed said some areas of the fire department, especially a recent growth in top-tier management positions, could be scaled back to reduce spending.

“I think you will see there are areas you can trim without an adverse effect on service delivery to the citizens,” he said.

The situation isn’t as bad as the mid-1990s, when the city didn’t have money to meet its payroll, and its financial and accounting records were in such a shambles that Congress and the Clinton administration created a control board to oversee D.C. affairs.

In this latest budget crisis, the city’s financial and data systems have helped pinpoint spending problems.

“The systems are in better shape, not perfect, but in very good shape,” said economist Alice Rivlin, a member of Mr. Gray’s transition team.

Mr. Gray offered few specifics on how he proposes to close the gaps, other than calling for a freeze on new capital projects, which could save the city $420 million over the next four years.

But his council colleagues were more forthcoming about cutting agency budgets and paying higher taxes.

Most of the city’s lawmakers support tax increases, and Mr. Brown said Monday that he will reintroduce his so-called millionaire’s tax bill, which the council rejected last spring. At the same time, the council also voted against an income-tax-raising plan by Mr. Graham.

“We will come to a meeting of minds on where the threshold should be,” Mr. Brown said.

On schools, Mr. Brown pointed out that spending has always been a contentious issue, especially since the mayor and council restructured governance in 2007, giving Mayor Adrian M. Fenty broad latitude to run schools while lawmakers gained the budget reins. Special education, which is under court supervision because of long-standing class-action lawsuits, has added to annual cost overruns.

Mr. Fenty and former schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee blamed the overspending on the council, saying it had shortchanged their budget requests.

Interim Chancellor Kaya Henderson leveled the same complaint Monday.

“Special education was underbudgeted for the last few fiscal years, which is leading to reports of overspending,” Ms. Henderson said. “In fact, special-education spending has remained constant for the past few years. DCPS has been working with [the office of the chief financial officer] to correct the reports and accounting which have lead to these reports.

“I am working with the mayor and CFO to make sure our budget is solid and financial systems correctly portray where we have areas of overspending,” she added, “but the issue as it relates to special education is underbudgeting in my estimation.”

But freshman lawmaker Mary Cheh of Ward 3 disagreed, saying the Rhee administration engaged in “smoke and mirrors” regarding all school spending.

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