Congressional Candidates Take on Local Concerns

Article excerpt

"It is imperative that we maintain modern, reliable and accessible infrastructure if cities are to compete successfully in today's economic climate," wrote Rep. Mike Crapo of Idaho to NLC's Election`96 Co-Chairs Ron Kirk of Dallas and Bob Knight of Wichita. He added that the most effective way to ensure local success is for the 105th Congress to remove federal mandates and shift resources back to local communities.

Approximately five percent of congressional incumbents seeking re-election answered NLC's "Election`96" issues questionnaire mailed in September.

"Please join us in a commitment to raise the level of debate O to ensure that people understand before they vote that you have considered, and care about, the consequences of your positions" locally, asked Mayors Kirk and Knight.

The questionnaire, similar to one sent to the major presidential candidates, asked members of Congress about their positions in six policy areas n deficit reduction, federalism, mandates, tax reform, public safety, and investment n and how their positions impact locally. The broad themes for which NLC sought congressional comments were:

How will your position help draw together rather than divide my community?

What are the likely consequences of your position at the municipal level, for instance, on local taxes, fees, and services?

Congressional replies ranged from thoughtful to less-than-complete. One member, Rep. David Scaggs of Colorado, addressed the over-arching issue for NLC's Election'96 project of how elected officials will work to unify, rather than divide, the nation. Rep. Scaggs is organizing a bipartisan retreat for the 105th Congress to find ways to change the negative and divisive political climate on Capitol Hill.

A sample of congressional replies to NLC's questionnaire include:

Deficit Reduction

Congressional incumbents were asked how they would reduce the federal deficit, and how their plan would impact locally:

"In reducing the deficit, my priority will be to abolish wasteful and outdated programs in every federal department, and eliminate corporate welfare programs. I continue to oppose tax cuts until the budget is balanced. I will not vote for budget proposals which attempt to eliminate the federal deficit on the backs of the disadvantaged or pass along spending responsibilities to our states and cities," wrote Rep. Corrine Brown of Florida.

Rep. Mike Crapo of Idaho supports "an across-the-board approach" to deficit reduction that "does not specifically target any federal program or spending priority." By "freezing federal spending for one year, then letting it grow at one or two percent below the economic growth rate, we would balance our budget in seven years or less," he argued. Rep. Crapo wrote that ithe best method to ascertain (how to then cut the national debt) would come from continued communication with local and state entities.

Rep. Crapo's response offers an example of an answer that demands a follow-up question: Are all federal programs, including entitlements and defense, subject to a freeze under this plan? Or would his freeze plan only apply to discretionary spending that tallies one-sixth of the federal budget, but whose programs disproportionately did cities and towns?

Federalism

Incumbents were asked what they could do to restore more authority and resources for local governments to meet local needs:

Rep. Bill Coyne of Pennsylvania is a supporter of General Revenue Sharing and Community Development Block Grants. iI believe the federal government has made a serious mistake in reducing such federal assistance programs for local communities over the last 16 years. I believe this trend toward `fiscal federalism' is being taken too far."

Rep. Elizabeth Furse of Oregon recognizes the need for more federal flexibility to states and cities. "For example, Congress must not usurp the authority of cities and local governments in the transportation planning process when ISTEA is reauthorized next year. …