States, localities often at odds on same dilemma.
A distrant federal government, a tough economy, and a demand for increased services with lower taxes provide a common dilemma in state houses and city halls in even the more economically stable states.
Former NLC President Charles Royer, now director of the Institute of Politics for the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, led three mayors and two governors in a discussion of how cities and states can work together to meet the challenges of governing in these challenging times.
Mayors on the panel were: Indianapolis Mayor William H. Hudnut, past NLC president; East Orange New Jersey Mayor Cardell Cooper; and Plano, Tex. Mayor Florence Shapiro. Nosth Dakota Governor George Sinner and Nevada Governor Robert Miller represented the state perspective.
Royer characterized American communities in the 90s as wrestling with earning disparities, racial and economic isolation, and not just disenchantment--full-pledged anger--with politics and politicians. He recalled the discussions on the part of all levels of government in the early 1980s about how to build a governmental partnership through federalism and how the prosperity which marked the end of the decade brought that discussion to a close.
Considering the resurgence of tough economic times, Royer asked Governor George Sinner of North Dakota where he perceives state and local relations are going from here.
"In the 80s we had Hollywood magic. 'You can have it all and not pay for it,'" Sinner said, echoing Royer's perception of that decade. Before tackling where cities and states are going in the future, Sinner stopped to consider where this nation, as a whole, is going in the future. "Here we're rejoicing about the demise of Communism and we're not so sound ourselves."
Sinner drove home his point with a recitation from a 19th Century Scottish historian, Sir Alex Fraser Tytler. Tytler wrote that democracy is not permanent and through greed engendered through prosperity will transform itself into a dictatorship. The quote his home with delegates at the conference and many requested copies. It appears on page 2.
Acknowledging the federal level's short-sightedness and debt, Sinner said that the federal government simply is no longer there to turn to. This puts the burden of governance of the shoulders of state and local governments.
Sinner said, "Cities, counties and states have to learn to work together.
"Our Congress should set goals and timetables for issues in states and cities. They do not have the money to regulate us. We'll have to tell people to regulate have all the services without the will to pay for them," Sinner said.
Florence Shapiro, mayor of Plano, Tex. said in her state the attitude between state and local governments is one of "I won't bother you if you don't bother me." The economy has tied the hands of both levels of government there, and the best each can hope to do is coexit without harming the other.
Cardell Cooper, mayor of East Orange, N.J. said he believes it's time politicians become statesmen and work for the good of the public, even if that means the public is too short-slighted to reelect those people.
"Political risk taking is needed to make cities and suburbs work together as one," Cooper explained.
The New Jersey experience characterizes dilemma of service provision and tax cuts. Cooper is from a state where a substantial portion of the state legislature was voted out of office for taking measures to meet the states financial needs. Politicians there made the right decisions and were swiftly voted out, in favor of those promising no new taxes.
"Wealth tends to pursue lower tax rates out to the periphery of the jurisdiction," the Indianapolis mayor said. To bridge the gap between rich and poor, white and black, suburb and center city, Mayor Hudnut suggested regionalizing government. The "uni-gov" structure which the state of Indiana imposed 20 years ago consolidated county and city governments, and according the Hudnet, helps even out the tax base. Uni-gov "broadened the tax base to make it possible for us to absorb into our tax base the prosperous suburbs," Hudnut told the other panelists.
Only the state can help create this system, Hudnut said, adding that leaders at all levels of government must have the "courage to face the tough questions." The problem is, he said, "No on wants to give up turf to save money for the taxpayer."
"Sometimes raising taxes is the responsible thing to do," Hudnut said. To promise no tax increases in these difficult times is "a shortsighted approach to local government, or any government."
Governor Miller talked about Nevada's fast growth and the problems that growth can cause. Miller attributes Nevada's economic and population growth to the region's receptivity toward business and industry.
Nevada has no income tax, no sales tax and only nominal property taxes because, historically, the gaming taxes which are mostly paid by out-of-towners sustained government." The area's population is growing and the need for services has outpaced the tourist industry's ability to bring in tax revenue," he said.
"Because of this I raised sales taxes, which caused our state ove from being the state with the second lowest tax rate up to being the state with the second lowest tax rate," Miller said. he told panelists of the backlash from constituents over this small but necessary tax hike, indicating that just the idea of a tax, no mater how small, builds anger and dissatisfaction.
At the heart of the problem, Gov. Miller said, "is that we don't have the public's confidence that we're spending wisely."
Sinner turned the discussion toward tha impact of free trade on the local, state and national economies. He spoke of what he called the "mythology of free trade." Sinner said we "cheer the cheap imports" while we impose costly regulations on American manufacturers, driving up the cost of their products with each new mandate on them.
So Sinner cautioned against being too hard on the business owner who says he must leave the cities because of the high tax rates. "We must remember," he said, "that we have put him at a terrible disadvantage in the global market, even in our own market."
Sinner also noted the error in using the property tax to finance more than it should. Money to be raised for education and for local programs too often has relied on property taxes, which can be disastrous in tough economics where real estate prices plummet. Sinner is an advocate of raising taxes "responsibility" through the state government, not local property taxes.
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|Title Annotation:||panel discussion at National League of Cities' Congress of Cities convention|
|Author:||Ryder, Julianne Ryan|
|Publication:||Nation's Cities Weekly|
|Article Type:||Panel Discussion|
|Date:||Dec 16, 1991|
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