NEW YORK, NOV. 13 -- Mayors of many of the nation's largest cities, struggling to find money to support their impoverished residents, today called on the federal government to shift tax revenue to urban areas that have steadily lost federal support over the last decade.
At the end of a three-day "urban summit" here, 35 mayors, each representing cities of more than 200,000 people, proposed a range of legislative and educational initiatives for revitalizing cities. Many of the proposals essentially are public-relations efforts designed to change the public's negative perception of cities.
The conference is not the first to dwell on the importance of urban America or lament the loss of federal support. But perhaps none before it has come when so many cities are suffering from evident fiscal and social crises.
"Over the last decade, our federal and state partners have abandoned their work at the municipal level and left us to carry on alone," said New York Mayor David N. Dinkins (D), who convened the meeting. "We have survived only because we generated enough wealth to attack our own problems while we sent off to others the money they needed to cope with theirs . . . . The time has come to level the scales."
In the last 10 years, while federal aid to cities dropped by more than 75 percent, according to the National League of Cities, urban areas have borne an increasing burden because of three primary problems: crack cocaine, AIDS and homelessness.
Conferences of urban officials have made it almost a ritual to cite such statistics, however, and despite the toll they take on cities, few here said they expect a federal government struggling with its own massive deficit to leap to aid cities.
In a draft report released today, the mayors said they would ask for a ban on assault weapons and passage of the Brady gun-control bill. Their chief legislative proposal is the Competitive Cities Act of 1991, which would call for tax incentives for urban investment and remove limits on tax-exempt bonds to pay for housing, transit and infrastructure projects.
They also said they would ask television and movie producers to present more "realistic and balanced urban themes."
However, while stopping short of calling for tax increases, they asked the federal government to support Head Start and other educational programs and to give municipal governments money to pay for programs mandated at the federal level.
Local taxes "will never be sufficient to meet the national challenges of educating America's future work force, winning the war on drugs, caring for persons with AIDS and other health problems and housing America's homeless population," their report said.
District Mayor Marion Barry, invited to the meeting, did not attend because of scheduling conflicts, according to a spokesman.