City Leaders Will Fight the Cuts Because Cities Are Worth Fighting For

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The president’s budget proposal represents a vision of unprecedented withdrawal of federal investment in America’s neighborhoods and communities.

Small and rural cities in particular generally lack the tax base to absorb cuts at the level the White House has proposed. (Getty Images)

President Donald Trump’s “skinny budget” proposes more than $50 billion in domestic spending reductions across the board, and would outright eliminate dozens of programs important to cities and towns. For city leaders, cuts of this magnitude are not merely a question of how to do a little more with a little less. That’s a question that has already dogged local officials for years as a result of the relatively smaller annual funding cuts to city priorities resulting from sequestration. It’s also a question city leaders have had to contend with because of the growing number of state-mandated caps on local tax and revenue authority.

The president’s budget proposal not only asks cities and towns to do a lot more with a lot less, it represents a vision of unprecedented withdrawal of federal investment in America’s neighborhoods and communities and an abandonment of the role the federal government traditionally plays as a stakeholder in cities, the nation’s economic engines and centers of opportunity.

A quick scan of programs proposed for elimination revels what is at stake for all American cities, large and small:

  • Community Development Block Grants (CDBG)
  • HOME Investment Partnerships Program for Affordable Housing
  • Economic Development Administration Grants (EDA)
  • Transit New Starts for Public Transportation
  • TIGER Grants for Public Transportation Projects
  • Minority Business Development Agency
  • Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Grants
  • Low Income Home Energy Assistance (LIHEAP)
  • National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)
  • Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grants
  • State Criminal Alien Assistance Grants
  • Community Services Block Grant (CSBG)
  • Weatherization Assistance Program
  • The Clean Power Plan

NLC President Matt Zone has pointed out that the president’s budget proposal runs directly counter to his campaign promise to lift up America’s cities – and in fact, the worst impacts of the cuts will be felt in the small towns and rural communities the president promised to prioritize. That’s because small and rural cities generally lack the tax base to absorb cuts at this level, and will be forced to make tough decisions that could have drastic human consequences.

The Community Development Block Grants program is a good example. For many reasons, NLC has had to lead efforts to “Save CDBG” from significant cuts or elimination every few years. Among those reasons is the fact that, from the viewpoint of federal lawmakers, CDBG can look like a “big city” program with a level of flexibility that makes outcomes difficult to measure. In reality, when the threat to CDBG is real, small-town leaders are always at the forefront of NLC advocacy to save the program. That’s because CDBG is one of the few programs that funds infrastructure improvements, such as water towers or main street redevelopment, in small and rural communities.

NLC is calling on Congress to throw out the White House’s budget proposal and develop a new plan focused on building prosperity, expanding opportunity, and investing in our future. Whatever the outcome, we know that real-life stories from local officials on the impact of federal programs will carry the day. That’s why we’re asking city leaders from communities large and small to help us fight the cuts by showing Congress why their city is worth fighting for.

mike_wallace_125x150About the author: Michael Wallace is the Program Director of Federal Advocacy at the National League of Cities. Follow him on Twitter @MikeWallaceII.