Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

Mending the Local-State-Federal Partnership

Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

Mending the Local-State-Federal Partnership

Article excerpt

The spreading scarcity of public funds amidst a growing need for services has underscored the frayed relations between local, state and federal governments.

Fiscal problems at one level of government affect the others. Typically, fiscal shortcomings at the federal level are passed along to states and cities. And state budget crises are passed along to local governments. Funding for programs at all levels of government face likely cuts.

But ultimately, through no fault of their own, local governments and local taxpayers will face "trickle-down" funding shortfalls that result in cuts to services, or increases in taxes and fees. Or both.

Last week, the National League of Cities convened a roundtable on the unraveling relations between cities, states, and the federal government (see story on page 1). There was broad agreement that there is a problem in the way the three levels of government operate.

Beginning the dialogue among the levels of government and nongovernmental stakeholders was an important first step. NLC's roundtable was conducted with an audience at the National Press Club and C-SPAN viewers around the country. Awareness is important.

But the key question is how can we improve relations and prevent massive problems at the local level?

A new NLC report on state cuts to cities describes the challenge we face: "The intergovernmental fiscal system can proceed only when all three levels of government work together in a spirit of cooperation, democratic accountability, open participation, and informed and reasoned discourse."

The study concludes with four steps to deal with the current fiscal crisis and the broader issue of preserving local authority.

Urge the federal government to provide counter-cyclical relief to cities. To demand greater state aid for municipalities in the current state budget climate is unrealistic, given the budget-balancing requirements of 49 states. …

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