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NLC president's address to the nation's cities: making cities the cornerstone of America.

Mayor James, members of the Board, and leaders from cities and towns in every part of America: I salute you and ask each of you to join with me, beginning this morning, in a campaign to rebuild our economic futures.

We meet as friends and colleagues who share many of the same hopes and dreams. We meet as representatives of diverse communities who elected us to lead not just within our communities, but at the state, federal, and, more recently, international level.

Our jobs are changing. What we once understood to be the job of mayor or council member has changed. What used to be bricks and mortar responsibilities within our own communities can no longer be so neatly defined.

Just a year ago our past President, Mayor Tom Bradley, warned former President Bush at a meeting at the White House that the sense of alienation among the young people in his community was so great that some event could trigger terrible consequences.

How terribly right he was.

After the disturbances in Los Angeles and other cities, large and small, we heard a number of prescriptions for addressing the poverty and loss of hope that were at the roots of the tragedy. The federal government failed to reach consensus on any. It acted on none.

But it is our failure too. For if we think of the most serious underlying problems in our own communities, we know that few of the conventional answers that worked in the past would reach the core of the problem today.

While each of us knows how to fill a pothole, few of us know how to fill the void in a four-year old child who never knew her father. But unless we learn, unless we teach, unless we force change across the nation, I fear the underlying consequences for the young people upon whom our cities' futures will be built.

This morning, I dare each of you to be bold. I ask each of you to find your own strength and courage to change. I ask you to accept not only the burden and responsibility of leadership in your community, but to join me in helping to shape the national agenda.

* First, we must work with the President and the Congress to implement an economic recovery plan that will stimulate the economy in the short run and produce an environment for investment in our communities and in our people over the long run.

* Second, we must work with the President and Congress to bring down the deficit. We must be strong enough to support not only the easy choices, but, more importantly, the hard choices the P resident and Congress will have to make.

* Third, we must become effective advocates for the NLC Action Agenda which represents our top priorities as the nation's municipal leaders.

* Finally, we must stretch our own vision to explore new, and fundamental changes which win enable every community to provide a better future for all our families and children.

Making Cities The Cornerstones of

America

Just over two weeks ago President Bill Clinton set forth his, vision of change for the nation. He challenged us. He sent a bold blueprint for our future to the Congress: a plan to invest in people, reward hard work, restore fairness, and to recognize our families and communities as the cornerstones of America's strength.

The President's plan mirrored the strategy we adopted - as Republicans, Democrats, and Independents representing all of our citizens - at our Congress of Cities in New Orleans. Now it is our job to work not only with the White House and the Congress to see this bold plan enacted, but also to work in our own cities and towns to make it work.

We must convince Congress to act now on this economic recovery plan. Members of Congress must understand that the cost of not changing federal policies is far greater in our cities and towns than the cost of change. We must demonstrate with concrete examples how this plan would benefit every city and town.

Restarting Our Local Economies

The President asked Congress to pass and have on his desk for signature a short term economic stimulus plan by April 2. The plan, if adopted, would increase funding for ready-to-go community development, transportation, and waste water projects. It also increases summer youth jobs.

The President's short term plan, to which we have all devoted so much effort, can provide important opportunities for our cities. But we must make it happen.

Let me be very clear. Critics say we will waste these funds, that you and I will neither spend them swiftly, nor wisely.

The President and our former colleagues, Secretaries Henry Cisneros and Federico Pena, have been direct: our future relationship with this administration will be measured by how effective and responsible we are in making this plan work.

Investing In Our Future

President Clinton's longer term plan win begin a process of human and capital investment.

The President calls for $160 billion in longer term investments, including $136 billion in new spending, and over $24 billion for private sector tax incentives over the next four years. He proposes capital initiatives important to cities in economic development, transportation, housing and community development, and rural development. He proposes human investments in Head Start, national service, education programs, anti-crime measures, welfare reform, and worker

Hard Choices:

Reducing Our Deficit and Debt

To reduce the federal deficit, the President proposed more than $245 billion in federal tax increases and over $200 billion in spending cuts. The spending cuts will be greatest for federal entitlement programs and national defense, $91 billion and $75 billion respectively. The administration also proposes significant cuts in foreign aid and a $50 billion cut in domestic programs.

The plan is tough. These proposals boldly hit entrenched interests. They will affect every one of us and our communities.

The President needs our support and leadership to see these tough issues resolved. We know we must persevere to make the necessary cuts and raise revenues. We must meet with community leaders and business leaders in our own cities to explain these hard choices. There are no easy choices left if we are serious about the deficit and national debt.

The future is counting on us.

The Board of Directors on Saturday focused on five priorities: * Restoring Safety in Our Cities and Towns * Rebuilding Our Communities * Reversing Federal Mandates * Reinvesting in Communities; and * Reforming Health Care

Restoring Safety in

Our Cities and Towns

The problems of drug dependency are destroying our people and our neighborhoods. For too long, help from the federal government has been a victim of gridlock. It is time for that to stop.

We support increased federal anti-drug and anti-violence funding made directly to cities and towns. These funds will support community policing efforts, rural law enforcement, and other anti-crime initiatives. NLC also supports the Brady Bill.

Rebuilding Our Cities

To be internationally competitive we need to increase our investment in our municipal infrastructure, we support: * a comprehensive national plan for research, development, and construction of infrastructure. We need collaboration between government and industry, guided by active leadership from the White House, with participation by state and local government; and * incentives to carry out the plan, using public and private partnerships. Tax laws which limit the use of tax- exempt bonds should be modified to expand municipal investment and leverage private funds.

Reversing Federal Mandates

Unfunded mandates are perhaps the largest burden on the nation's cities and towns. The ever-increasing number of federal mandates has forced many local governments to raise taxes, increase utility bills, and cut services to pay for the costs of implementation.

When we had a federal-state-local partnership to finance the costs of federally-imposed mandates, the nation made progress in meeting national goals. This partnership has been replaced by dictates with little or no funding from the federal government. There has been little regard for our struggle to finance ever more complex, ever more costly mandated requirements.

We need to change the terms of this debate. We must begin a dialogue to ensure that federal legislative and regulatory officials are well informed about the costs of mandates prior to their enactment or imposition. We need to undertake a comprehensive assessment of current mandated programs to ascertain cost, and structural and inter-governmental impacts.

The "one size fits all" approach federal mandates is a luxury that cities can no longer afford. We must work with states and the federal government to take into account regional, state and local variations. We must convey to Congress that municipalities cannot afford to implement all federally mandated requirements regardless of their relevance to local conditions and that cities and towns must be afforded flexibility in implementation.

Reinvesting in Communities

The new administration and Congress should help cities work with local financial institutions to leverage capital investment, and to help convert our economy from the Cold War to the new global competition. Banks and insurance companies should join with the nation's cities to meet local-identified community development needs.

The credit squeeze and recession of the past few years have been most severe for young, growing companies which produce the most jobs.

A reinvestment of resources from our local financial institutions must be the cornerstone of any federal effort to stimulate local economic development.

Health Care

Rising health care costs are devastating to families, business, and government at every level. Health care costs threaten the security of many families and leave some 37 million Americans without any insurance coverage - except for the responsiveness of local governments when someone dials 9-1-1 or shows up at a hospital emergency room.

Over the next five years, state and local spending for health care costs is projected to increase by nearly 30 percent. At the federal level, exploding entitlement health care costs will consume one out of every four federal dollars by the year 1998, unless we can change the current system. By the year 2000, the average family's health care costs will rise to $10,000 per year.

Under the leadership of Detroit Council President Maryanne Mahaffey, we have made great strides in adopting comprehensive NLC health care policy. I am confident that with our 1993 Human Development Chair, Dr. Wayne Creelment, the Mayor of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, we will complete that process this year and be a full partner under the task force headed by Hillary Rodham Clinton to make recommendations to Congress for comprehensive health care reform.

Health care reform will require some of the most difficult policy and political decisions of our decade. We want access for all, lower costs, choice of physicians and quality of care to remain. Achieving all this will be difficult if not impossible. Our job is to work together to make sure NLC is at the table when the fundamental decisions are made. I hope you will all appreciate the importance of this priority and be prepared to contribute and support our efforts.

Thinking Beyond The Boundaries

I would like to close this morning by challenging myself, you, each of our communities, and each of our state and national organizations. We must stretch our limits in order to keep this organization strong, vital, and fresh.

For example, I recently met with the leadership of all the NLC policy committees. Part of our discussion focused on changes in America's families, and we realized that what is happening to families is affected by issues of concern to every one of our policy committees. We all left this stimulating discussion newly energized about what we need to do, and seeing our responsibilities in a new light. Recharging one's batteries and shedding new light are benefits of new thinking.

My city is changing, I think yours probably is too. These changes cause me deep concern. The old American concept of community - the sense of reciprocal obligation - has eroded. The cohesion of family has diminished. When the Advisory Council looked at this they reached an important conclusion; families, communities and local governments are dependent upon each other to carry out their important functions. The success of my municipal government and yours is tied to the condition of families and communities.

In the last 30 years, we have seen great changes in our neighborhoods and communities. We do not feel secure when we do not know where our 15-year old son or daughter was last Friday night at 11:30 p.m. Crime, drugs, and AIDS. know no boundaries. We fear the harm to our kids, and the greater uncertainty that the protective umbrella of families or neighbors will not be there when we need it. The very nature of families and neighborhoods is changing.

More and more kids are growing up with only one parent.

These are different problems than we understood we would be dealing with when we were first elected. They are not issues we were or even today are really prepared for. But they are problems and issues we have to grapple with.

The status quo is not working. We have to change it. I have four ideas I have asked a task force chaired by Mayor John Norquist, the Mayor of Milwaukee, to consider. At the same time, I know that our Advisory Council, chaired by Hal Conklin, councilmember from Santa Barbara, will be considering and debating other aspects of these issues so important to our cities and towns. I know that all of you are up to this challenge, and I want to both challenge and provoke you.

Let me tell you the four challenges we need to address.

First, I believe we need to increase the minimum wage. In 1960 the minimum wage in this country was 88% of the per capita income of US nation. Thirty years later- in 1990- the minimum wage was only 45% of the nation's per capita income. Federal policy has left our lowest paid workers behind. We cannot abandon our lowest paid workers.

Today, 40 percent of all American families where the breadwinner is under the age of 30, live in poverty. These families cannot pay property taxes. They can have little hope for the future. We have to find a way to enable a full-time worker to earn enough to support a family.

Second, we need to examine the impact that the globalization of our economy has on the growing inequity in this country. How much is the loss of the better paying blue collar jobs related to our growing dependence upon other nations for manufactured goods? Mayor Sharpe James asked the Advisory Council to look at the broad questions relating to the role of cities and towns in the international economy. In that context, I have raised the question of the domestic economic impacts.

Third, we need to throw out our welfare system. The current system discourages marriage and work; that needs to be changed.

Finally we must make sure that our youth are prepared to enter and successfully perform in the workforce. We know that now half of all American youth fail to complete post-secondary training or schooling.

We need to address these challenges. If we cannot find the means to turn around the negative trends affecting our families, as municipal officials we can look to an ever higher price for that failure. That price will include an overwhelming burden on our schools to educate youth who lack hope and support at home, a growing number of aimless youth on the street without job readiness skills, and an ever expanding criminal justice system with more police and bigger jails.

Cities and towns are the cornerstones of this nation. But if we, as leaders of our nation's cities, are complacent and unwilling to risk going beyond what we know and understand, then our nation will not thrive. We will fail our trust. And we will fail our future.

I have deeply valued my membership in this organization, because it has been a meeting place of experiences, great challenges over policy and politics, and enormous commitment to public service. I hope it will recommit itself this year to tackle some of the ever tougher issues and be prepared to adapt and change. This organization has faced tough challenges in the past, and succeeded, and today it can again help to assure that our nation's cities build a healthy future for all our citizens.

I salute and thank you.
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Title Annotation:excerpts from an address by National League of Cities President Donald M. Fraser
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Mar 15, 1993
Words:2728
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