The U.S. Conference of Mayors launched a drive yesterday to renew general revenue sharing and urged tax increases to reduce the federal deficit instead of cuts in aid to cities.
"Yes, the deficit monster must be slain," New Orleans Mayor Ernest N. (Dutch) Morial told reporters. "But no, you cannot beat it to death with urban programs."
Morial, the conference president, conceded that mayors have determined that the political climate for revenue sharing and other urban-aid programs is "very bad" as they concluded their annual three-day winter meeting here. "Our work is cut out for us," he said.
But Morial added that the mayors intend to return to their cities and mount "a serious national effort to redirect the legislative and executive branches of this government."
The mayors' transportation committee urged an increase in gasoline taxes, estimating that $1 billion could be raised through a 1 cent per gallon tax increase. Morial said another option would be a $10-a-barrel tax on imported oil.
The mayors reported broad bipartisan support for tax increases. Mayor Joseph Riley of Charleston, S.C., the conference vice president, said it was "almost impossible to find any philosphical differences."
"The sentiment for revenue increases among Republicans and Democrats was with equal fervor," he added. "The sentiment about the unfair cuts was felt equally strongly by the Republicans."
Mayor George Renner of Glendale, Ariz., who heads the Conference of Republican Mayors, said he President Reagan should consider cutting Social Security, veterans benefits and other entitlement programs exempted under the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings balanced-budget law.
He said cities do not seek special treatment but want programs that benefit them "reduced equitably with others . . . . You can eliminate every city program, and you're not going to make a dent in that deficit."
Revenue sharing, first enacted in 1972, is to funnel $4.6 billion in federal money to about 39,000 local governments this year, and recipients are not restricted in how they use it. Authorization for the program expires Sept. 30, and mayors were told that prospects for renewing it are bleak.
Rep. Frank Horton (R-N.Y.), a longtime champion of the program, said only 85 members of Congress have agreed to cosponsor two pending House bills that would renew revenue sharing.
"It is not going to go any place with that kind of support," he said, adding that "newspapers all over the country are saying we can get rid of revenue sharing."
"You aren't getting the story across to the American people," Horton told the mayors. "They don't know how important revenue sharing is."
Riley said that, if revenue sharing is not renewed, "we will have to raise taxes at the local level in a very aggressive way."
Mayor Frank Cooksey of Austin said that Texas mayors had a "surreal" meeting with Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.), one of the authors of the recently enacted budget-balancing act.
"It seemed we were speaking in a different language than he was," Cooksey said.
He said that Gramm told the mayors not to expect many actual cuts under Gramm-Rudman-Hollings because "so much additional revenue is coming into the federal government" as a result of economic stimulation stirred by the 1981 income-tax cut that also bears his name.