Fighting for funding
As President Bush tries to balance the budget and fund an expensive war effort, key domestic programs stand to suffer deep cuts in fiscal year 2008. Many officials say the cuts would be detrimental to local governments’ budgets, but they are guardedly optimistic the Democratic-controlled Congress will reject some of the proposed decreases.
President Bush’s $2.9 trillion budget request, which the administration says would balance the budget by 2012, proposes cuts of up to 50 percent to many programs important to communities. Funds for Community Development Block Grants would be cut by almost $700 million from 2007 levels, with total funds of $2.97 billion. “It’s frustrating. The federal government keeps saying they want to be our partners. Then we get the budget, and there are cuts to things we need the government’s help on,” says Northglenn, Colo., Mayor Kathie Novak.
Officials also are concerned about several local law enforcement programs, which would be cut or eliminated, including the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, for which the president requested no funding. “To eliminate funds in the COPS program [and other law enforcement programs] at a time where cities across the country are experiencing an escalation of violent crimes — this is not the kind of message that should be sent to America,” says Trenton, N.J., Mayor Doug Palmer.
Other areas that face cuts include energy programs, like the Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance program, and other efforts to promote energy efficiency. “We’re not going to wring our hands,” says Palmer, who is also president of the Washington-based U.S. Conference of Mayors. “We’re going to reach out to Congress in pushing for energy grants to help cities provide resources for efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions and create jobs in our communities.”
The Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program also faces cuts, which will affect many Western counties that have grown dependent on it as a revenue source over the years. “The impacts of cuts to that program are going to be very significant for some counties in rural America,” says Umatilla County, Ore., Commissioner Bill Hansell, immediate past president of the Washington-based National Association of Counties (NACo). “In some cases, a county might be as much as 85 percent to 90 percent federal land. In those cases, I would even say [cuts to PILT] will be catastrophic.”
But, officials say there is hope that the budget will undergo many changes — some positive for local governments. Despite the fact that Congress is now under Democratic control, “you can’t assume the budget is dead on arrival,” says Ed Rosado, NACo’s legislative director. “The reality is you cannot function thinking that. There are things in [the budget] we know we can probably protect, but there is also a lot we don’t know, and we need to be cautious.”
The author is the Washington correspondent for American City & County.