Big-city mayors said yesterday they will fight what they called a "bogus proposal" from President Bush to fold one of their favorite grant-in-aid programs into a block grant run by governors.
At a news conference called by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the mayors of Boston, Newark, N.J., and York, Pa., said that turning the Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) program over to the states would mean cities will never see $3 billion of vitally needed aid again.
Bush's budget proposal lists CDBG as one of the major items on a menu of federal aid programs totaling $22 billion that might be included in a single block grant. Such a grant is designed to give states increased flexibility in the use of the funds.
The White House has said the list was flexible but expressed the hope that at least $15 billion worth of programs would be included.
Boston Mayor Raymond L. Flynn (D) called it a "bogus proposal" that would strip money from the places where it is most needed and let "governors and legislatures hand it out in whatever way they consider the best politics." York Mayor William J. Althaus (R) said that contrary to the president's rhetoric, the proposal would move control of the funds "away from the government closest to the people," that is city hall.
Newark Mayor Sharpe James (D) said he feared that if the money were transferred to New Jersey Gov. Jim Florio (D), "he might use it to balance his budget, pass tax relief and improve his image."
CDBG has pumped billions of dollars into city coffers in the past 17 years that was used on economic development, housing and infrastructure projects. Despite a requirement that 70 percent of the money be used for activities that benefit low- and moderate-income people, critics contend it has been used to underwrite hotel and convention center projects that have produced big profits for private developers.
Raymond Sheppach, executive director of the National Governors Association, said the governors "are not trying to take over city grants; it's not in our interests to get into that fight." Sheppach said governors could "easily put together a $15 billion package from the 450 categorical grants that now go to the states."
But Althaus said that "even if CDBG is taken off the table," mayors would oppose the block grant proposal.