Senators Retrace NLC Roots, Pledge Help in Future
Shafroth, Frank, Nation's Cities Weekly
Senator George Voinovich (R-Ohio), who served as NLC President in 1985, is prepared to be NLC's "lobbyist inside the Senate" during the coming year. Voinovich made the promise to a large group of NLC delegates who participated in a special Capitol Hill 75th anniversary session at the close of the Congressional City Conference.
Joining Voinovich at the special session was Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) who served as NLC President in 1971. Both Senators shared memories of their years as mayors -- Voinovich in Cleveland and Lugar in Indianapolis -- and as NLC Presidents in addition to talking about key federal issues that the 106th Congress will take up. The session was part of NLC's year-long focus on service to cities and towns since its founding as the American Municipal Association in Lawrence, Kansas, in December 1924.
The 75th anniversary commemorative year will wrap up at the 1999 Congress of Cities in Los Angeles.
Lugar moved directly from city hall to the U.S. Senate in 1976, while Voinovich spent eight years as Governor of Ohio before his election to the Senate in 1998.
Voinovich, who said he still answers to the title "mayor," reflected on President Ronald Reagan's effort to create a new federalism in the early 1980s. "I was enthused in the early 80s that we were making progress on our intergovernmental relationship," Voinovich said. "But we have a long way to go. We need to develop a deeper understanding among levels of government about what each does. There must be a symbiotic relationship among levels of government so that we can work together to deliver services to the people who elected us."
Voinovich also shared his perspective on the current federal budget situation, arguing that there has not yet been what he called a "real surplus" which does not include revenue from the Social Security trust fund in the general revenue bottom line.
"We didn't have a real surplus when Congress was congratulating itself last year for eliminating the federal deficit. If we continue to stay within the 1998 budget agreement, we are likely to have a real surplus in 2001," he said. "I believe we need to make hard choices about how to spend any federal surpluses. To a large extent, we have mortgaged the future of our children. It is much better public policy to focus on reducing the national debt than reducing taxes."
Voinovich promised to work closely with NLC on its two top priorities - electronic commerce and preemption of local authority. He said he would work to get a preemption bill introduced in the Senate quickly that would follow the model of the Unfunded Mandate Reforms Act.
"We have made some real progress as a result of the Unfunded Mandates Act. There are all kinds of bills Congress would have passed, but couldn't because of the point of order in the mandates legislation," Voinovich said. "The more you empower the people who are closest to the problem, the better result you get. And that's what the unfunded mandates effort did."
Addressing one specific federal mandate, Voinovich vowed there would be no mandatory Social Security for cities and municipal employees saying "it's not going to happen. …