City leaders have joined other local government officials around the country in reporting the growing strain on their budgets from a decade of declining federal contributions, according to a report to be released today.
Cities, which also are hurting because of the recession, a decade ago counted on the federal government to provide about 18 percent of their budgets. Last year that contribution was about 6 percent of their spending, according to a survey of 50 urban areas.
Because state contributions grew "only marginally," cities had to raise more of their revenue at home, according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors. A decade ago cities raised about 65 percent of their total spending. Now it is about 75 percent.
The study reports that the federal government's share of urban outlays has declined, but does not report the dollar amount of federal aid to cities in either 1980 or 1990.
Several mayors, including Philadelphia's W. Wilson Goode (D) and Boston's Raymond Flynn (D), are scheduled to present results of the study at a House Government Operations Committee hearing this afternoon. Philadelphia, which has been on the edge of bankruptcy, last week closed a long-sought loan deal for up to $150 million to keep the city solvent through the winter. It still faces the prospect of a major deficit by the end of its fiscal year June 30.
"There is no question the economic situation was the No. 1 issue" among mayors surveyed, said J. Thomas Cochran, executive director of the mayors' conference. It displaced drugs and crime as the major concern in most cities, he said.
Many mayors trace much of their woe to the federal government's withdrawal from many urban programs, noting especially the demise of federal revenue sharing.
"When it comes time to spend money, it's really a question of priorities," said Paul Soglin (D), mayor of Madison, Wis. Soglin, along with his elected colleagues, said his hopes for a "peace dividend" for domestic programs evaporated with the start of war in the Persian Gulf.
Soglin, who said Madison has raised taxes and cut city services during the last 10 years, called the war the federal government's latest excuse for not funding urban programs. Last summer, mayors were warned that the savings and loan bailout would absorb any resources Congress might have to spare.
"It's clearly a federal responsibility," he said of common municipal problems such as drugs, crime and homelessness. "We don't have walls between our cities. Problems are fluid from community to community."
The mayors' report found, for example, that the federal share of the Baltimore budget was about half as much in 1990 as in 1980. In Chicago and Los Angeles, the federal share had declined more.
Forty percent of the cities surveyed have imposed or increased user fees, admission charges or utility taxes. Fifty-six percent reported they raised taxes within the last 12 months.
Rep. Stephen J. Solarz (D-N.Y.) told the mayors' midwinter meeting here yesterday that while he supports President Bush's decision to go to war, domestic needs should not suffer.
He encountered skepticism among the mayors gathered here to plead for federal attention.
"The real difficult thing for me is, even if we had not had this war, those resources we need . . . would not be coming," said Thomas V. Barnes (D), mayor of Gary, Ind.