Washington. --- The nation's cities, already bedeviled by drug abuse, record murder rates and crippling fund shortages, are going to be neck-deep in grave troubles if the Bush administration gets away with its new scheme of political robbery.
This White House wants to take from the cities some $22 billion in aid grants and let the governors and state legislatures decide how to divide up the pie.
''This is not federalism. It's fraud,'' screamed Boston's Democratic Mayor Raymond L. Flynn. The Republican mayor of York, Pa., William J. Althaus, protested that the Bush scheme would take desperately needed funds ''away from the government closest to the people'' -- city hall.
The mayors see, correctly, a heavy component of racism and a galling amount of 1992 re-election politics in Mr. Bush's proposal.
The nation's cities are populated by great numbers of blacks, Hispanics and poor whites, almost none of whom is screaming for four more years of the Bush presidency. Not only are the mayors of most big cities Democrats, but a large and growing number of them are black or Hispanic. Bush advisers have decided that there is no likely political benefit for this president to continue to send $22 billion in federal monies directly to the cities.
The governors, with the exception of Virginia's Doug Wilder, are white, and the White House goal is to ensure that more of them will be Republicans. The state legislatures are overwhelmingly white, many controlled by Republicans.
Given a dose of myopia, it is easy for the White House to turn urban-aid programs into a huge block grant controlled by governors and legislatures. No one in the White House seems to give a hoot about the destructive consequences.
The mayors say that if the governors get the money, the cities will never again see the $3 billion in Community Development Block Grants that have been so vital to our cities. The Mayor of Newark, Democrat Sharpe James, even distrusts a fellow Democrat, Gov. Jim Florio of New Jersey. Mayor James says Governor Florio is likely to use ''city'' money to balance his battered budget, avoid tax increases and improve his tattered image.
In recent history we have seen numerous examples of state officials refusing to use federal monies in ways that the Congress intended. Many governors and even county authorities resisted federal food-stamp and other anti-hunger programs for years, primarily because they knew that their poor, semi-starving constituents had no meaningful influence.
For the sake of the needy children and families of our cities, let's hope President Bush will decide that it is not in the nation's interest to play politics with the federal grant-in-aid programs.
6* *Carl Rowan is a syndicated columnist.