CHICAGO, JUNE 16 -- The nation's mayors took time out today from bashing the federal government to fight among themselves over whether the Constitution should be amended to guarantee cities a set percentage of federal revenue.
The debate came as more than 200 mayors got down to business at their annual summer conference, taking committee action on dozens of proposed policy statements on issues from taxes and transportation to housing and AIDS research.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors human development committee endorsed a resolution calling on Congress to pass legislation mandating that a "fair" percentage of federal revenue be channeled directly to cities. If Congress refused to pass such a law, the resolution would put the mayors on record in favor of a constitutional amendment requiring the revenue sharing.
Philadelphia Mayor W. Wilson Goode (D) led the support of the measure, saying the mayors need to make a forceful statement to win attention for their concerns in Washington.
But a separate committee, the mayors' panel on urban economic policy, voted unanimously to oppose the provision calling for a constitutional amendment. "The Constitution should not be part of the budget process," said Mayor Paul Helmke (R) of Fort Wayne, Ind.
That dispute was the only diversion from a day spent largely following up Friday's opening-session attack on Congress and the Reagan and Bush administrations for not sending more aid to cities. The mayors are virtually unanimous in saying that aid cutbacks in the 1980s exacerbated urban housing and education problems and left cities too poor to provide drug treatment and other services to the needy.
Boston Mayor Raymond L. Flynn (D) opened the session with a scathing assault on federal spending priorities.
"Federal policy towards our cities and towards economic opportunity today is as bankrupt as the corrupt savings and loans which are robbing our young people's future," he said. "While we waited at Washington's back door for a few crumbs for urban America, these bandits heisted over $300 billion from our nation's treasury.
"These are funds that could have been used for job training, for college scholarships, for helping young families buy their first home, as well as building a national economy set to compete with Europe and Japan," he said.
Flynn, chairman of the task force on homelessness, was among mayors saying federal aid cutbacks have left cities too poor to provide job training to keep youths off streets and away from crime. The mayors hope to lobby collectively for money that they believe can be saved from a reduced need for military spending.
"Solutions hinge on the federal government making the urban areas and people a top priority," host Mayor Richard M. Daley (D) of Chicago said at a morning news conference.
Earlier, he had chastised administration officials, including drug policy director William J. Bennett, who have accused the mayors of whining in asking for federal help. "I don't think we're whining. I don't think we're crying," Daley said. "They've become isolated from the country."
Today, he added, "We basically need an administration willing to have some courage and strong leadership."
But many of the proposals popular with the mayors are viewed with trepidation in Washington -- among them the mayors' position that the federal government needs to raise taxes and give some of the money raised to cities.
Also high on the mayors' agenda but controversial in Washington are proposals to spend more of the billions in aviation and highway trust funds for airport and road improvements. The huge balances in those accounts hide the true size of the federal budget deficit.