Cities: Essential Partners in Federalism Discussions

Article excerpt

Debate about the roles and responsibilities of government may not be as riveting to the public as the O.J.Simpson trial, but these topics have received a new level of attention in Washington recently. The Republican leadership in Congress is trying to define its vision of government; meanwhile, the administration is pushing its own various "reinventing government" proposals.

Important questions about the basic responsibilities of all levels of government--federal, state, and local-are now on the table for discussion, and fundamental questions are being explored.

Is government itself the problem, as Ronald Reagan said fifteen years ago? What vision of government does the House Republican "Contract with American" contain? Can social and human service budget cuts tied to block grants to state govemments save dollars and improve services? Can federal programs be reduced and eliminated without shifting the costs to local governments?

Can cities be trusted to responsibly allocate block grant funds? Six months ago House Republicans said cities could not be trusted"; House Democrafts disagreed. Last months the roles reversed: House Democrats said cities could not be trusted; House Republicans disagreed.

At the moment, these governance discussions are part of legislative actions and programs driven by the House Republican leadership. While the House rushes forward, the Senate is moving cautiously--accepting some of the philosophical premises of their House colleagues, but asking hard questions about individual programs. Meanwhile, the administration and the Democrats are presenting their case for restructured government based on a concern about the human consequences of the elimination and transfer of programs to state government.

Governors, particularly Republican governors, have been welcomed on Capitol Hill as advocates for flexible human service block grants. At the same time, the governor, led by Governor Leavitt of Utah and Governor Nelson of Nebraska, have joined with state legislature in calling for a Conference of the States to consider their relationship to the federal government and possible Constitutional amendments to realign& responsibilities between the federal and state governments.

This national discussion on governance provides an important opportunity to restructure the relationship between local government and the federal system. …