Cities Prepare for New Administration in Washington

Article excerpt

Impact of New President's Policies on Cities and Towns Uncertain

As Republican loyalists from across the country prepared to converge on Washington, DC, this week for the inauguration of George W. Bush as the 43rd President of the United States, local officials were watching the new administration take shape and assessing how local priorities will fare over the next four years.

During his campaign for the White House, Bush did not speak directly to many of the challenges facing cities and towns or address the importance of investing in the future of our nation's communities. However, he did make proposals to improve public education, provide low-income families access to health insurance and homeownership assistance, and to improve the future for all children. These proposals converted to policy and law could potentially address some of the priorities in NLC's Investing in Communities statement that speak to reducing poverty.

In October, NLC released a six-point plan for Investing in Communities that provides a framework for a federal-local partnership to build a strong and prosperous future for America. The plan has the support of 26 national organizations ranging from local government, youth, advocates, and public interest groups, to home builders, retailers, organized labor and the legal profession. NLC President Dennis W. Archer, mayor of Detroit, sent the action plan to President-elect Bush in December urging him to work with the coalition to ensure federal support for our nation's cities and towns.

The Bush administration's determination to dedicate 25 percent of the anticipated $5 trillion federal surplus to across the board tax cuts, and the rest to debt reduction and shoring up Social Security could leave little for investment in the future of local communities.

Federalism Implications

On a more positive note, state and local officials from both parties believe that President-elect Bush will give states particularly, and local governments to some extent, far more authority and flexibility to shape and operate many federal programs. From health and welfare to education, transportation, and environmental protection, Bush has promised to shift power from the federal government to state and local government. He is expected to touch base often with the Republican governors who helped him get elected.

This promise of devolution could have mixed blessing for local governments. Most cities and towns will welcome more local control, but if it comes without adequate federal funding it will leave local governments with growing responsibilities and new fiscal burdens.

Many of Bush's cabinet nominees and senior White House staff appointments reflect his bent to look to state and local government to solve their problems without micro-management from the federal level.

For example, throughout his campaign for the White House, President-elect Bush indicated repeatedly that he is inclined to give the state houses control over federal funds for programs to be administered at the state and local level. This could leave local governments with numerous state-imposed mandates. Another proposal repeated throughout the campaign was Bush's commitment to direct federal grants and program administration to faith-based and charitable organizations in local communities. If Congress approves, and he follows through with this, it could erode local authority and accountability.

His cabinet selections for the federal agencies responsible for social, regulatory and public works programs have extensive experience in state and local government.

For example, Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson, nominee for secretary of Health and Human Services, will bring his expertise in welfare reform as well as his frustrations with federal bureaucracies to his new charge. Mel Martinez, the chairman of Orange County, Fla., and former director of the Orlando housing authority, is the secretary designate for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. …