The National League of Cities gave qualified endorsement yesterday to President Reagan's economic recovery program, but it urged the administration to reconsider proposed cuts in federal aid for urban redevelopment, saying the reductions would cause more industries to flee the central cities.
Breaking ranks with labor and big-city mayors, the league said it could live elimination of 100,000 public service jobs and supported Reagan's plan to save federal housing dollars by defering some maintenance and repairs of public housing projects.
"We endorse enthusiastically the president's objectives of restoring productivity and competitiveness in our economy and of clarifying the relationships within our federal system," said league President William H. Hudnut III, the Republican mayor of Indianapolis. "We believe it is essential for all groups and constituencies to share in the difficult adjustments that must be made. We want to do our fair share."
There was considerbale dissension within the governing board of the league, which governing board of the mayors and council members from small towns and medium-sized cities, over the endorsement of Reagan's proposals, particularly the league's willingness to go part way in support of the president's plan to terminate 300,000 public service jobs.
"The rich will be the prime beneficiaries, of the [economic recovery] plan," said Newark, N.J., City Councilman Donald Tucker, a democrat and president of the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials. "Taking programs from the nation's poor is not a panacea for our country's economic woes."
While supporting the proposed job cuts, Cleveland Mayor George Voinovich, a Republican, said there may be "holes" in the so-called safety net of programs that the administration has said will ensure that the "truly needy" are not hurt by spending cut-backs.
Voinovich said he gave Vice President Bush a study by a coalition of Cleveland church groups that indicated that living costs for some of Cleveland's poor would increase by about $700 a year if the administration's proposed cuts in food stamps and housing, health care and fuel bill assistance are approved by Congress.
The U.s. Conference of Mayors, which represents cities with populations exceeding 30,000, thus far has refused to support any of Reagan's proposed cuts. On Friday the conference joined labor and civil rights groups in a coalition with the broad goal of fighting most of the cuts the president is proposing for social welfare and jobs programs.
But the National League of Cities, which Reagan is to address today, said it believed the president's economic recovery program was needed to restore productivity and bring greater rationality to federal aid programs.
A statement by the league's 50-member governing board expressed concern, however, that the administration's plans for changing or eliminating programs might not provide enough time for cities and towns to adjust to the changes.
The board also asked Reagan to retain urban loan subsidy and grant programs aimed at stimulating private investment in inner cities, and it opposed his plan to cut back federal aid for mass transit sharply and to reduce an expansion of rent assistance programs proposed by President Carter.
The approximately 1,900 league members attending their annual winter conference here listened politely but unenthusiastically yesterday to a defense of the economic recovery program by murray Weidenbaum, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.
Calling his address a "Sunday sermon," Weidenbaum urged them not to become obsesed with individual cuts, saying the recovery plan would produce an economic renaissance that would more than compensate for short-term losses.
"Don't look at the hole. Look at the doughnut," Weidenbaum said.
Though Weidenbaum was applauded warmly after his address, he was interrupted with vigorous applause only once -- when he said the administration would seek to eliminate waste in all areas, including defense programs.
Later, Weidenbaum told reporters he believed "citizens across the board, of every color, of every region, are going to benefit positively from the total effects of the [economic recovery] program."
Asked to comment on a report in Saturday's Washington Post that suggested that blacks were apprehensive about Reagan's plans because some of the biggest cuts would come in programs serving a much larger percentage of the black population than white, Weidenbaum said:
"Very frankly, we didn't do a racial breakdown of these programs [when making proposals for cuts]. We looked at the intrinsic merits of the programs."