INSIDE WASHINGTON/People power
City and county officials are busy plotting ways to fight cuts to a number of key community programs just weeks after President Bush announced his proposed 2007 budget on Feb. 6. While local leaders are worried about the future of several of those programs, some say it will be hard during this election year for members of Congress to approve major cuts to programs that benefit so many of their constituents. Still, local officials say they will lobby Washington.
The president’s intention to cut the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program by 25 percent stands out as the most disappointing proposal in the fiscal year 2007 budget, according to several officials. Last year, the president proposed cutting the program altogether, but because of widespread opposition, Congress restored funding. President Bush proposed a total of $2.8 billion for the program in 2007, down from $3.7 billion in 2006.
“It is somewhat frustrating to fight this year after year,” says James Hunt, a councilmember from Clarksburg, W.Va., and president of the National League of Cities. “We had broad support for it last year, and once again, we will have to generate that same coalition this year to ensure those same funds. It is frustrating because it is a program that has stood the test of time.”
Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson says CDBG helps cities and counties redevelop and create jobs. He cites the $8 million redevelopment of “a very successful community center in Indianapolis” that provides services for elderly, poor and youth. Peterson says CDBG is funding $300,000 of the total cost, and without it, “We would have to reduce what we contribute for projects like that, or cut it entirely.”
Hunt says cities and counties also are concerned about a proposed cut to the Firefighter Assistance Grants Program, which would be reduced by $361 million to $294 million in 2007. “Many communities use the grant program to purchase fire equipment. These are things that save peoples’ lives,” he says. “A cut to that program would be significant to [all] fire departments.”
Several programs assisting low-income residents may be cut, including the Community Services Block Grant program, which is slated for elimination, according to Ed Rosado, legislative director for the National Association of Counties. “This program funds things like the Head Start program and other services to the elderly and poor,” he says.
“What happened with the CDBG program last year showed that local officials have power,” Hunt says. “When we were fighting the elimination of CDBG last year, what resonated was not local officials, but residents of housing that received federal assistance from the program, who started to call and say, ‘These are programs you just cannot cut.’”
Rosado also is concerned about proposed cuts to justice assistance grants, programs that help small, rural airports and programs that assist counties with the cost of maintaining federally owned lands. Local leaders say they plan to rally residents and to directly lobby Washington leaders to illustrate the programs’ importance to communities. Rosado says while concern for those programs exists, “I think the budget will be changed considerably. Politically, it is not palatable for members of Congress to cut those programs considerably during an election year.”
The author is Washington correspondent for American City & County.