A task force of the nation's governors urged the Carter administration yesterday to give the states a larger role in developing a coordinated program to help the cities.
Specifically, that attention should come in the form of direct federal grants to the states - even if that means collapsing all current, direct federal economic development grants to the cities into single block grant programs for the states, said Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis.
"In some ways, that might be construed as taking funds from cities that now go directly to them," Dukakis conceded. But he said such a tack probably will be necessary in order to bring some sense to the way federal dollars are used for urban development.
Dukakis, a Democrat, is chairman of the four-member task force on urban policy - a group within the National Governors Association - which met with Carter officials yesterday to discuss a 150-page urban policy statement now under consideration by the administration.
The public statement, prepared "for discussion purposes only" by the President's Urban and Regional Policy Group, has not received official executive approval and, unlike an earlier version leaked to the press, does not contain specific budget recommendations.
The public statement also does not say exactly how the federal dollars would be routed to the cities, a matter of great political importance to state and city officials whose power if frequently proportional to the number of dollars they control.
The leaked version recommended about $12.5 billion in new spending for a variety of urban programs, with a major emphasis on creating new jobs in depressed urban areas. It received mixed reviews from city officials, some of whom expressed gratitude for the administration's apparent willingness to maintain direct funding to the cities, and others who voiced concern that the Carter people were emphasizing urban economic development as the expense of social programs.
Dukakis said yesterday that the governors' task force was less concerned about the amount of money any new urban program would cost than it was about finding a way to "far better utilize the million and millions of dollars from the federal treasury" that go to the cities.
The cities get over $50 billion a year in federal money - excluding payments to individuals from Social Security or Medicare.
The current tendency to make direct federal grants to cities frequently results in duplication and waste, Dukakis said. For example, under the direct urban grant system, he said, "We have areas of our state where we must have at least one-half dozen industrial parks."
The Massachusetts governor - whose state has won praise for developing taz, transportation and land-use policies beneficial to local governments - said he doesn't believe the Carter administration "really has an urban policy at this point, although they're working on it."
He was joined in that assessment by Illinois Gov. James Thompson, a task force member.
The administration "ought to make it clear that it (present urban) statement is simply a statment of policy, rather than a programmatic statement," Thompson, a Republican, said.
Thompson agreed with city officials who complained that the administration's tentative urban proposals place too much emphasis on economic development in the cities while ignoring social ills.
"It doesn't face up to the problems which are at the root of the deterioration of the cities - crime and poor schools," he said. "Who wants to move to a place that isn't safe and where they can't raise their kids?" he asked.
Also attending yesterday's meetings were Govs. Milton Shapp, Democrat of Pennsylvania, and William Milliken, Republican of Michigan.