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Local leaders question U.S. investment in Russian cities; Moscow (Idaho) mayor says U.S. cities need help too.

NLC led a coaliation of concerned local government leaders in dramatizing the irrationality of sending American tax dollars halfway around the world--to Russian cities like Moscow and Odessa--while dismissing the needs of America's communities.

Paul Agidius, the mayor of Moscow, Idaho, took part in the NCL news conference on the steps of the District's government building on Pennsylvania Avenue, between the White House and Capitol Hill talking of the hardships faced by people in his Moscow. The mayor of Odessa, Tex., sent a letter describing the hard times in her city. Another report of hardship came from Odessa, Minn.

"Why is it that we have no choice but to increase aid to Russian cities and at the same time have no choice but to cut aid to American communities?" said Donald J. Borut, NLC executive director. "We believe that the government we support with our tax dollars has no business turning its back on America's cities and then rushing off to help Russian cities and towns."

They called into question the Administration's decision to support a $24 billion aid package for the former Soviet Union while backing budget policies that cut $6.7 billion from programs to help America's cities and towns.

Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly of Washington, D.C. also spoke at the news conference to urge investments at home before commitments abroad.

Other similar news conferences were being held by local officials in places ranging from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., near the town of Moscow, Pa., to Spokane, Wash., about 80 miles from Moscow, Idaho. NLC Advisory Council member Jack Hebner, councilmember of Spokane, led the news conference in his city, and Pennsylvania League of Cities Director Jack Garner and City Administrator Richard Muessig led the event in Wilkes-Barre.

Leaders of the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) and National Association of Counties (NACo), also joined in the NLC event on Pennsylvania Avenue. They echoed the view that America's priorities must address the needs of its own citizens and the job of strengthening communities for the challenges of economic conversion and global competition.

The local government leaders organized the news conference in the wake of two actions in Washington last week. On April 1, President Bush announced that he would support a $24 billion aid package to the former Soviets and personally lead a campaign to mobilize public support for Congress to act on the estimated $6.1 billion commitment that would come from the United States.

A dary earlier, the House of Representatives followed the Administration's wishes and rejected legislation that would remove the artificial barriers in the federal budget to allow some savings in defense spending to be used for priority programs at home. Similar legislation also was blocked in the Senate last week, with the Administration again arguing that it couls not be afforded.

Mayor Agidius said small communities in rural areas such as his have a growing backlog of problems and limited local resources.

"OUr local and regional transportation network needs help for bridges and road improvements, or we just won't be able to generate any economic growth or even remain competitive," he said.

"The last time we got any help from Washington was in 1984 when Revenue Sharing still existed. Since then, we go through a wringer just to squeeze out enough to get by. If our citizens are the ones paying the taxes, their needs ought to have some weight in setting national priorities," Mayor Agidius said.

"Washington has not only scaled back its commitment of resources to hometown America, we have also been left to foot the bill for many of the federal laws and regulations that arrive without funding," Mayor Agidius said. "We support clean water and environmental protection, but we need some help in achieving the standards. We applaud the efforts to bring stability to the emerging new democracies of the former Sovie Union, but we also need help here at home to restructure American industries for their new economic challenges."

"No one is against helping the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States), but in Washington, too many people are against cities, working families and needy people," said Tom Cochran, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, reading a statement by USCM President Raymond Flynn, mayor of Boston. "If it is right to bail out Russia, then why isn't it right for our own government to help our own people in America's cities?"

Larry Naake, NACo executive director, noted that his executive committee of county officials visited Russia in December. "We know that the needs and suffering are real," he said.

"However, we also know that there are real needs that are not being met in our country--and these are just as critical," Naake said. "Congress and the Administration are forgetting America's counties and cities. Legislation is needed now to create jobs and begin rebuilding our infrastructure."

The local government leaders said that before Congress gives any serious consideration to a new fiscal assistance package for Russia, it should look at the urgent problems confronting the places where that money is coming from--namely our own neighborhoods and families in our cities and towns.

In Pennsylvania, Richard Meussig, city administrator of Wilkes-Barre, lamented federal policies that would share U.S. tax revenues with Moscow, Russia, but not Moscow, Pa.

"Right now, the hopes and opportunities we have as leaders concerned with health, education, infrastructure and the environment will be more critical to America's security than any foreign challenges," Muessig said.

"We have to halt and reverse what is happening in our communities," said Jack Garner, Pennsylvania league director. "We cannot do it alone, nor expect the federal government to do it for us. We must confront these problems from a new direction with a joint commitment.

In Washington, Borut said, "Our national leaders must recognize, discuss and adopt initiatives to address the needs of the citizens and taxpayers in communities all across America, instead of pleading poverty while sending billions of dollars abroad."

He laid out a national agenda that would include:

[Section] investment in the human resources of our work force, "present and future, ourselves and our kids"

[Section] investment in public infrastructure

[Section] investment in fighting the record levels of crime and drug abuse that are sapping our communities

[Section] investment in adequate health care for all Americans

[Section] investment in affordable housing

[Section] and, investment in helping to relieve the burdens imposed on communities by unfunded federal mandates

Borut pointed to a chart to show how U.S. investment in public infrastructure has been plummeting over the past 30 years. Another chart showed that among the major industrial nations of the world, the United States is dead last in government investment in infrastructure as a percentage of gross domestic product.

"If you put any stock in the saying, 'sink or swin,' this is a frightening picture," he said.

The local leaders said America should not neglect its role in supporting the emerging independent nations of the Soviet Union. But at the same time, they said, America cannot remain blind or dismissive of the problems and needs of its own communities.

"When the members of the House and Senate return to their home districts next week, we want them to understand our message," Borut said. "America has a heart, but we have to keep that heart beating for it to do any good."
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Title Annotation:Paul Agidius
Author:Arndt, Randy
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Apr 13, 1992
Words:1224
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