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In focus: a time for extraordinary leadership.

President Bush's State of the Union Address and federal budget request to the Congress mark the beginning of a year of extraordinary opportunity for the men and women elected to lead the nation's communities. The budget and Congressional response emphasize how difficult a challenge that will be.

The budget request makes clear that municipal leaders will not only have to rededicate themselves to leadership within their communities, but also to work together to shape a national agenda to restructure the economic foundation of the nation.

The President's budget sets very different priorities than those adopted by NLC's leaders at the Congress of Cities last December, and very different from the national municipal policy they adopted.

In response to the President's address and budget, NLC President Glenda Hood said:

"President Bush's desire to focus on the changes that can take place in our country is a welcome pledge of presidential leadership. His declaration that we can bring the same courage and sense of common purpose to the economy that we brought to Desert Storm is a welcome sign of urgency and commitment. And his initiative to establish Presidential Commission on America's Urban Families is a welcome response to a major issue of long-term importance which leaders of the National League of Cities presented at a recent White House meeting with the president.

"Our nation should be making investments in the future of its people and communities with priorities that will strengthen our human resources and physical infrastructure. We should launch a broad and coordinated economic conversion to utilize the resources that were dedicated to defense efforts now rendered obsolete by a new world order.

"The administration's budget priorities must not neglect many clear and urgent needs in hometown America."

The policy, priorities, and agenda set by NLC focus on eliminating the human, fiscal, and physical deficits of American and investing in its future.

They are, Hood told President Bush, to see the community and the future from the eyes of a small child.

Because America's children are now its poorest class, the future is not so bright. Only by ensuring the feeding, care, housing, and education of our young can the nation's communities expect to produce the workforce critical to tomorrow's economy and critical to reducing the alienation, hate, and fear so prevalent in so many of today's communities. Only that mutual commitment and shared responsibility will guarantee an ability to compete with Japan and Germany in the next century.

As the administration and Congress enter this budget and tax debate, the United States stands poised upon a precipice--for the first time in American history, the federal government could adopt a budget spending more on its past than its future. For the combination of spending on interest on the national debt, Social Security, and Medicare now threaten to consume more than half of all federal spending, and far more than half of all federal revenues--a priority for the past instead of a commitment to the future.

When combined with the additional request for the S&L bailout, the nation faces a crucial crossroads between its past and its future. It must set a new agenda.

President Bush spoke to Congress and the American people about the need for strong and swift action to look homeward and move to set right what needs to be set right in our nation, just as Immediate Past NLC President Sidney Barthelemy did at the Congress of Cities in Las Vegas.

But how and whether the nation moves forward is now in the balance.

For cities and towns, the highest priority is to change the 1990 federal budget agreement to reinvest in America's future economic security. It is to cut national defense spending and use the savings to reduce the national debt and invest in the nation's human and public infrastructure.

The President's budget rejects that priority. It proposes further disinvestment. But the Democrats in the Congress too face a threshold question: is giving middle income Americans a tax break more important than addressing the future?

City leaders' second priority is to insure direct federal assistance to prevail in the war on drugs and violent crime. The budget offers little hope.

City leaders' third priority is the reauthorization of the nation's housing and community development laws and rejection of proposals to have the federal government intrude upon and preempt the fundamental rights and responsibilities of local officials for land use planning and zoning. The President's budget proposes deep cuts in housing and community development for cities and towns, but unprecedented federal preemption. Enormous efforts will be required with the Congress.

City leaders' fourth priority is enactment of a Local Partnership Act to respond to the growing disparities in the nation and to help pay for the cost of unfunded federal mandates. Again, the budget offers little hope, even though the President does. The President's personal recognition of the cost of mandates to cities and towns and his recognition of the cost of hate and disparities offers room for city leaders to seek a new partnership.

Finally, the President's budget recognizes that the nation will never reduce its record debt and deficits until it fully confronts the cost of federal entitlement programs--especially those which have grown without restraint nor respect to need. The President's proposal to impose discipline over this spending and to attempt to reach an agreement to control the cost of mandates and regulations matches a willingness by the bipartisan leadership of the House Budget Committee to take steps to face the federal deficit head on - the way each and every city and town is forced to on an annual basis.

That willingness faces daunting obstacles. But failure will force more grave costs to every community down the road and would continue the relentless disinvestment in the young Americans who live in every community. Overall federal budget authority for priority municipal programs is actually reduced in the Administration's budget, from a current level of $22 billion to a request for $21.3 billion. The proposed budget also includes several intrusive and unfunded federal mandates on local governments. Among them are mandatory Medicare payments for all cities, towns and their employees, and preemptive regulations over local land use and zoning activities, which are one of the most fundamental rights and responsibilities of municipal government. These intrusions are stark examples of the unfinanced federal mandates President Bush said he wants to end.

Our nation clearly has an opportunity to redefine the goals of our national policy and to reorder the budget priorities that guide us towards those goals. The leaders of America's cities and towns have an enormous stake in the outcome of the debate that will take place over these issues, and we intend to be firm and steadfast in support of our priorities.

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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Shafroth, Frank
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Feb 3, 1992
Words:1131
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