1.25.2008

WHAT CITIES WANT FROM THE FEDS

Here's an interesting read: The US Conference of Mayors' 10-Point Plan for 2008." Not surprisingly, this coalition of big-city mayors calls for more federal funding in a number of categories. You may ask how that's fair, to redistribute all of our tax dollars towards cities. Except that, according to the report, metro areas represent 85 percent of our population, 85 percent of our employment, and 86 percent of our GDP. So it's not completely illogical to redistribute in this way.

What is interesting to consider is which of the categories make sense to me to have heavy federal funding down to the local level. This goes to the core of whether one is a Republican or a Democrat when it comes to national politics: should the federal government be small and leave the work and money to the states and locals, or should the federal government be an active redistributor of resources. And yes, I realize this current, Republican administration has initiated an unprecedented level of big government, even in non-defense arenas; so I mean this in stereotypical terms, not actual terms.

Anyway, it's a useful exercise for anyone to see whether they are more hands-off or hands-on in various categories. Here's my personal take, and I encourage you to think about it for yourself:

category: climate protection
proposal: Energy Block Grant, not unlike the current Community Development Block Grants
my take: I agree that DC has unnecessarily punted on climate change, so federal funding plus some way of evaluating results and sharing innovations makes sense to me.

category: fighting crime
proposals: trust fund for more cops; better anti-gang laws; resources for ex-offenders; tighter illegal gun legislation
my take: I agree with the report's assessment that DC has focused on homeland security and not on local crime, but I disagree that that's a bad thing.

category: community development
proposal: stop lowering CDBG levels
my take: PA is among the stupid states that have exacerbated reduced CDBG funds by taking them away from cities that use them in conjunction with eminent domain, even if the project is for something like affordable housing. So let's fix that first.

category: housing
proposals: trust fund for affordable housing; federal funds for public housing; save HOPE VI; FHA reform
my take: I would prefer a regional approach - federal is far too vast, and local penalizes one muni as it competes with its neighbor. Easier said than done, I know, but we're talking philosophically here.

category: infrastructure
proposals: funds and tax breaks to help states, locals, and private sector invest in infrastructure; catch up on deferred maintenance; create a capital budgeting system
my take: Infrastructure is most certainly a national, interstate commerce sort of issue. So constitutionally, economically, and politically, DC should feel like it has the green light (no pun intended) to do stuff here.

category: workforce
proposals: summer youth employment program; save Workforce Investment Act; connect at-risk people with "green" jobs
my take: Here's another situation where the intention is good but the mechanism is poor. Couldn't agree more with what needs to be done; leery as heck about DC getting involved.

category: children and youth
proposals: increased funding for Head Start, children's health insurance, teacher training, after-school programs, and encouragement of parental involvement
my take: See my previous answer.

category: homeland security
proposals: more flexible and logical distribution to local level; immigration reform
my take: I agree with the first proposal and am holding my breath on the second pending what DC does at a national level.

category: tourism and the arts
proposals: balance homeland security with ease for international visitors; Cabinet-level Secretary of Culture and Tourism
my take: Well-intentioned but show me some specific plans to make me feel less nervous about a greater federal role here.
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