FOR most Americans, cities are the government that directly affects
them. Cities provide water, schools, and basic social services.
They pave and plow the streets.
It would be nice if cities could pay their own way. But for
decades, many have been caught in a Catch-22: Their tax base
declines while the demand for services rises. And if they raise
taxes to maintain services, more businesses and individuals flee to
the suburbs, making matters worse.
So the cities need help from the state and federal governments.
State politics, however, often preclude increased aid to cities:
Outstate legislators know voters aren't keen to pay increased taxes
to what the voters often see as corrupt and inefficient city
governments. Sometimes, unfortunately, race is a factor, too. The
federal government has thus been the funder of last resort, and
often furnishes large percentages of city budgets.
But those budgets, already lean, would take an inordinate hit if
the US Senate doesn't modify budget-cutting bills passed by the
House. Mass-transit, crime-prevention, education, and job-training
funds are among those scheduled for trims.
A recent survey of mayors, Democrats and Republicans, found that 96
percent of those responding believe the cuts will have a negative
impact on their cities. More than 80 percent said they would have
to reduce city services, and more than 40 percent said they would
have to raise taxes. …