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NLC plan carried to Capitol Hill: city officials testify for Local Partnership Act of 1991.

Mayor John O. Norquist of Milwaukee, and Councilmember Jack Hebner of Spokane and a member of NLC's Board of Directors, last week took NLC's plan to redefine national security and reorder national priorities to Congress.

In testimony before Congress and a meeting in Speaker Thomas Foley's (D-Wash.) office, they called for deep cuts in defense spending and reinvestment of a portion of the resulting savings into a new domestic order:

"We believe it is time to invest in the human and physical future of the citizens of our communities ... to take the first critical step to reordering federal priorities in response to the new world order."

They joined a panel of mayors and other Congressional and local elected officials testifying before Congress in support of the Local Partnership Act of 1991.

Mayor Charles Box of Rockford, Ill. testified on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and Commissioner Marlene Eide of Williams County, North Dakota testified on behalf of the National Association of Counties. In addition, Mayors Cardell Cooper of East Orange, N.J.; Patrick Henry Hays of North Little Rock, Ark.; and Saul Ramirez of Laredo, Tex., were invited by the House Government Operations Committee to the hearings which were, in committee member Rep. Patsy Mink's (D-Hawaii) words focused on a matter of reevaluating "our national security" and American priorities.

The bill, HR 3601, sponsored by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Government Operations Committee, would authorize $40 billion in targeted fiscal assistance by formula to 39,000 cities and towns and other units of local government to pay for unfunded federal mandates and to meet these communities highest priorities over the next six years.

The House Subcommittee on Human Resources and Interogovernment Relations is tentatively scheduled to mark up the bill as early as this week.

It would start with $2 billion for the federal fiscal year beginning October 1, 1993, and then increase by $3 billion per year through 1998.

Funds under the legislation would be allocated to cities and towns based upon the per capita income of the locality, the unemployment rate in the state, and ratio of local taxes relative to local taxpayers' incomes.

Forgotten Partnership

Each of the elected officials noted that after a decade of disinvestment and unfunded mandates, it was time to reorder national priorities.

They indicated partnership with the federal government that had producted the most powerful and vibrant economy in the world has been forgotten.

They pointed out that a day in which President Bush was reported by the Wall Stret Journal to have promised new taxpayer aide to the Soviet Union, the only promise for cities and their taxpayers was new, unfunded mandates.

In his testimony, Hebner told the Congress:

"I must share with you the frustration of local elected officials. When I was elected in 1981, there was a federal-local partnership. Somehow that's gone away.

"Today, and every day, we get calls from the same people that elected you. They are upset about increased taxes and reduced services ... But suddenly we are fighting for our tax dollars-the tax dollars from our constituents in our cities-that are going, more and more, overseas.

"We believe this legislation is a critical first step in reordering our nation's priorities."

Norquist noted that criticisms by some that cities and towns would use new federal funds to "pad already wasteful budgets" were absurd given the current overburdened fiscal condition of all local governments. He said that "other countries around the world understand that cities are the engines that drive the economy, that provide jobs, culture and vitality to its people:

"Just think of Japan--its federall government does not feel sorry for Tokyo. It invests in Tokyo to make it the centerpiece and engine of the most productive economy in the world. Is our country going to let them pass us up? When are we going to fully understand that today's investment is tommorow's properity?"

Hays likened the situation for local elected officials to combat:

"We're in the foxholes. We've never even seen the generals. We've hardly ever seen the captains or the majors. They're just wandering around like it's only our problem. And if they give us a fancy, new rifle, it comes with so many federal strings attached and incomprehensible instructions and regulations, we just throw it away.

"It's time for us to look home. Our foundations are cracked. We have to be partners again."

Double Standards and Objections

In his opening statement, Ranking Republican Rep. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.) referred to the proposal as "deficit sharing." He acknowledged to the elected local officials the merit of their concerns, but insisted cities, towns, and counties come to grips with how to pay for the new partnership.

In response, Hebner told Thomas that NLC had adopted a statement calling on Congress and the White House to cut defense spending to $200 billion a year over the next four years. NLC proposes that 60 percent of the savings be used to reduce the national debt, and 40 percent be used to invest in America.

He noted that the Local Partnership bill called for less than one quarter of the funding being requested this year for the S&L bailout, and slightly less than half the amount many members-Democrats and Republicans-were proposing for tax cuts. Hebner noted that there had been no discussion by the administration or the Congress about how to pay for the bailout, or why Congress could afford tax cuts, but not investments in cities and towns.

In response Thomas said that the federal government could not abandon depositors and that it would be too expensive to pay for the bailout now. He said the nation needed tax cuts to stimulate the economy, notwithstanding the cost to the record federal deficit. Hebner said his city faced a $3 million current account deficit. He told Thomas that in his city taxpayers are upset about high property taxes. He told Thomas that the most popular political action he, the mayor and council could take would be to cut taxes. But, he said, for state and local officials that is not an option.

Outlook

There appear already to be sufficient votes to report the legislation out of subcommittee. It is less than three votes away from a majority in the full House Government Operations Committee--and Chairman Conyers committed to Hebner he woul seek to send the bill to the full House before this session of Congress adjourns at the end of the month.

Immediately after the hearing, Republican staff met with Hebner and NLC staff to discuss an alternative proposal. The minority staff is apparently discussing a more limited, and more targeted fiscal assistance program and a proposal to hold the federal government more accountable for unfunded mandates before they are imposed upon cities and towns.

The pressure of the time frame set by Conyers could help force a compromise by the end of this session of Congress.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:National League of Cities
Author:Shafroth, Frank
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Nov 4, 1991
Words:1154
Previous Article:Coalition to improve management.
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