Officials from eight of 10 cities say they would have to cut services if federal revenue sharing were reduced next year, and about half say they would also have to raise taxes, according to a survey released today by the National League of Cities.
Nearly one-third of the cities surveyed also said they would have to lay off municipal workers if revenue-sharing funds were cut. No one relies more on the program than small cities -- 41 percent of towns with populations between 10,000 and 50,000 said revenue sharing is the only federal aid they receive.
The survey marks the beginning of a lobbying offensive by the league to protect the $4.6 billion program, which must be reauthorized by Congress next year. The league is to focus on the program at its annual meeting this week in Los Angeles.
Most mayors are enthusiastic about the program, which makes up 5 to 10 percent of their city budgets, because they can spend the money any way they want.
Administration budget-cutters have not suggested that the program is a target, and plans to phase it out under President Reagan's "New Federalism" apparently have been dropped. "I know of no plans to reduce general revenue sharing," a spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget said.
The league reported that "revenue sharing has become in many ways the glue that holds the precarious fiscal situation of many cities together."
The program, which began as the Nixon administration's version of New Federalism, is used for everything from downtown revitalization to Meals on Wheels for senior citizens. New Orleans uses its money for street cleaning, Birmingham for storm sewers and Frankfort, Ind., for the town library.
More than half the big cities reported they spend funds on such basic items as police, health care or social services. Albuquerque, N.M., uses the money to pay 80 percent of its firemen. Washington spends its $17 million payment on a crime prevention unit, three fire companies, welfare payments and street lighting.
In Baltimore, officials use most of their $24 million allotment to run the fire department and ambulance service. Another $5 million goes for playgrounds and recreation centers, with $1 million earmarked for trash collection.
"Most of that money would have to be replaced," said Sandy Jordan, a Baltimore budget analyst. "There's no way you cannot fund the fire department. We've already pared all these services back the last few years."
Jordan said Baltimore would have to raise the property tax rate by 60 cents to compensate for the cuts, an increase he termed politically impractical. "We already have a property tax that's twice as high as any other subdivision in Maryland," he said. "If you want to keep your middle- and upper-income taxpayers, you can't tax them out of your jurisdiction."
In similar fashion, the smallest cities in the survey said they would have to raise property taxes 45 percent to make up the difference, while the largest cities predicted increases of 15 percent.