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Municipal officials offer priorities for new federal leadership.

One-half of city and town officials believe that the current level of federal taxes needs to be maintained. Survey responses demonstrate that officials believe that spending priorities need to be drastically altered in order to address the problems which face the nation. By far the greatest area of agreement is on economic concerns: 75% of officials say that federal spending on "economic growth investments" should be increased.

Sixty-three percent and 62% of city officials advocate decreasing the federal budget for foreign affairs and defense, respectively. On the other hand, less than 1% believe that we should increase federal spending in foreign affairs, while only 3% believe that we need to spend more money on defense.

America's elected city officials strongly favor increasing domestic spending. More specifically, they support increased federal funding for economic growth investment, health cars, and compensation. to comply with federal mandates by percentages of 75%, 64%, and 50%, respectively.

Regarding spending cuts, a majority of officials (51%) favor a decrease in spending on non-needs tested entitlements. (This category includes programs such as social security, Medicare, and agricultural subsidies.) Only 7% favor an increase in such entitlements.

Municipal officials were asked to list the two issues most important to their city or town which should be addressed by the next Congress and President.

Provide aid to local governments/revenue sharing 5%

As these percentages indicate, economic issues, in general, are the foremost concern of local officials. Unfunded federal mandates, physical infrastructure needs, and health care are other primary concerns.

In addition to these issues, official shave a wide variety of other concerns as reflected in the remainder of the list of top federal recommendations as well as the assortment of issues which are not included among the top priorities.

Affordable housing for example was an additional major area of emphasis.

In making recommendations regarding the economy, officials expressed a wide range of comments. Some officials recommended that the Federal government promote "economic development" or support "industrial growth." Others emphasized the importance of "job creation." This variety of phrases reflects the current policy debate, by underscoring the idea that employment opportunities do not necessarily accompany other economic improvement. In fact, recent news reports suggest that economic growth and job creation are not yet linked in the current business cycle. At the present time, some economic growth is occuring, but the rate of job growth is lagging behind.

Officials who responded that the Federal government should work to reduce the number of unfunded mandates commented that mandates and regulation were "bankrupting" local business and government. They supported "financial aid" for mandated requirements and called for 'mandate relief." Officials' reactions were supported by findings in NLC's annual fiscal survey, released last June. According to the fiscal survey, local officials cited unfunded federal and state mandates as a factor that "most significantly created difficult city fiscal situations."

Officials who mentioned environmental health as a top priority specified a broad range of concerns. Some rsspondents urged that federal attention be given to solid waste issues, including waste reduction, recycling, and cleanup of Superfund sites.

Echoing the concerns of many Americans, a significant number of local elected officials believe federal leaders should reduce the federal deficit and debt and balance the budget. While many respondents favor a balanced federal budget,however, their opinions did not produce a consensus on the method for bringing about more fiscal control.

Survey Highlights

The economy dominates the concerns of the nation's elected municipal officials in NLC's 9th annual opinion survey of mayors and councilmembers. This focus is consistent with the emerging priorities of President-elect Bill Clinton.

The opinions of municipal officials constitute an unmistakable call for a realignment of federal spending priorities. Specifically, almost two-thirds of city officials advocate a decrease in spending on foreign affairs (63%) and defense (62%). Moreover, 60% of officials urge an increase in spending on domestic programs. Local officials support increases in government spending for economic growth investments (74%) and health care (64%) as well as additional funding for federally mandated programs (50%) and helping poor people (40%).

These spending priorities are grounded in city officials' assessments of local conditions, with economic issues being the most widely shared concerns. By the widest margin since the survey's inception, city officials reported worsening conditions in the overall economy (47%) and unemployment (54%) over the past year. Moreover, the percentage of officials who reported overall economic conditions as the "most important problem" reached a seven-year high (44%).

* In October and November of 1992, the National League of Cities obtained the opinions of 425 randomly selected municipal elected officials from cities and towns across the country. In this ninth annual opinion survey, the response rate from officials was such that accurate conclusions may be drawn regarding the opinions of all of the nation's municipal elected officials with-a variation of 4.7 percent.

Overall economic conditions (33%) led the list of problems which had "deteriorated the most" during the past five years. Underscoring these views, 80% of local officials rated employment opportunities for newcomers to their communities as only "poor" or "fair."

Beside economic issues, city officials also report other worsening local conditions:

* More than half (57%) say that cable TV rates and service are worse than in 1992.

* Forty-nine percent report that "drugs" worsened in 1992, and more than one in four local officials says that "drugs" is one of the "most important problems," the conditions "most deteriorated over the past five years," and the "most difficult to deal with."

* Thirty-seven percent say that city fiscal conditions will be the "most difficult problem to deal with."

While they urge constructive roles for government in addressing these problems, officials see the need for tough fiscal decisions at the federal and local levels. Local taxes must be raised or city services must be cut in order for local budgets to be balanced. Although 63% of officials say that overall services in their cities were maintained in the past year, 44% believe that city services will be cut in 1993 if city tax rates and fees are not increased. Furthermore, 38% of municipal officials say that their community lacks the financial capacity to "keep up" with infrastructure needs.

In support of reductions in federal spending, a slim majority of officials (51%) support a decrease in non-needs tested entitlements and nearly two-thirds call for decreases in federal spending on foreign affairs and defense.

Local officials split evenly on the question of the benefit to cities of a constitutional amendment to force a balanced budget for the Federal government.

Nearly three out of four local elected officials (72%) believe that the "roles and functions of local government have changed significantly in the last five years." Even more (84%) say that citizens "do not understand" local governments' roles and responsibilities. And in this context, 67% worry that local governments "are likely to be overwhelmed" by the challenges of the 1990s.

Officials' Preferences for Domestic Budget Priorities:
Area: Increase: Maintain: Decrease:
Non-needs tested entitlements 7% 42% 51%
Funding for mandated costs 50% 39% 11%
Helping poor people 40% 54% 6%
Economic growth investments 75% 22% 2%
Health care 64% 30% 7%
COPYRIGHT 1993 National League of Cities
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related information on survey highlights; Special Report: The State of America's Cities; The Ninth Annual Opinion Survey of Municipal Elected Officials
Author:Barnes, William; Eddins, Kevin
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Jan 11, 1993
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