INSIDE WASHINGTON/Locals seek strength in numbers
Armed with two recent surveys that provide hard data showing municipalities in fiscal distress, local leaders are preparing a renewed lobbying effort for increased federal funding to cities and counties. Local leaders are expected to highlight areas and programs in their communities that will be cut or are already decimated to pressure their representatives and senators to support additional funding in the 2004 appropriations bills.
“We have been talking about making a strong and clear bipartisan pitch to our congressional representatives,” says Jane Campbell, mayor of Cleveland.
City and county leaders also are likely to form alliances with outside interest groups to demonstrate strong widespread support on specific funding issues. Not having the support of other groups could prove financially disastrous for cities and counties, warns John DeStefano, mayor of New Haven, Conn., and president of the Washington, D.C.-based National League of Cities (NLC).
“It will only work if the National League of Cities and the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) partner with interest groups around different issues,” DeStefano says. “We are going to have to take [the issues] one at a time with different partners and fight them one at a time.”
The renewed lobbying effort is particularly important because cities and counties have not had many successes in Congress recently. For example, states were granted a $20 billion emergency allocation in President Bush’s current $330 billion tax cut bill, but cities and counties received no direct funding. The Senate had earmarked $4 billion of the state aid to be funneled directly to cities and counties, but the provision was removed when House and Senate negotiators finalized the tax bill, which was signed into law on May 28.
“Sending money to the states sounds good, but by the time it gets to the cities, administrative costs are taken off the top,” says Judith Valles, mayor of San Bernardino, Calif.
The NLC and USCM surveys also show a disturbing trend of job losses in cities. More than one million jobs located within cities have been lost in the past two years, according to the USCM poll.
Pointing to the USCM study, which shows that cities are responsible for “80 percent of the nation’s employment, income and production of goods and services,” mayors are calling on the federal government to help boost the sputtering economy by directing investment to metropolitan areas. “Until metro areas — the locomotive of the U.S. economy — revive, the national economy will continue to stall,” says Kwame Kilpatrick, mayor of Detroit and chairman of the USCM’s Council for Investment in the New American City.
The NLC survey offers equally bleak news for municipalities. A poll of its members shows that “four out of five cities (79 percent) report they are less able to meet financial needs than they were during the previous year.” In a similar NLC poll conducted last year, only 55 percent of cities responded in that way, the report says.
While noting that cities expect state aid to decrease this year, the NLC survey also says that “cities face a 4 percent gap between revenue and spending,” the highest it has been in 10 years. “Revenues are down 1 percent over the previous year, while spending is up 2.9 percent [overall] making for a percent gap,” the report states.
DeStefano says the gap between spending and revenues shows why it is important for local leaders to engage their representatives at home and in Washington to help local governments deal with their fiscal problem. “The battleground over the next couple of months is the appropriations bills,” he says. “That is where the action is going to be.”
The author is Washington correspondent for American City & County.