A chilly capital awaits Schmoke's protest march

October 10, 1991|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's march to Washington this week to protest Baltimore's financial plight will land him on the doorstep of an administration that rules out a major new federal bail-out for cities.

President Bush has continued the federal retreat from the cities Ronald Reagan began in the 1980s. In the decade of their leadership, aid to the cities has been halved while overall federal spending authority has more than doubled, according to the National League of Cities.

Behind the policy is a little-known political philosophy: the New Paradigm.

Its creator, James P. Pinkerton, deputy assistant to the president for policy planning, signaled the cool reception the Baltimore protesters can expect in the capital: "I would hope they are not coming here just to ask us to pour more and more money into the old system.

"We are all abundantly aware that the status quo is not working,and I would imagine that Mayor Schmoke and I would agree that things need to be changed."

There already have been changes:

* In 1982, 34.3 percent of Baltimore's budget was federal money. In fiscal 1992, Uncle Sam will contribute only 11.2 percent to the city.

* Nationwide, federal low-income discretionary budgetary authority,covering such areas as education, nutrition, housing, health and employment, fell 47.8 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars during 1981-1991, according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

John C. Weicher, assistant secretary for policy development and research at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, challenged the mayors' statistics as "partial." Actual outlays on programs for the poor rose from $80 billion in 1980 to $112 billion in 1990, he said. Spending on low-income housing rose from $8.25 billion in 1980 to $16 billion in 1990, all figures adjusted for inflation.

Mr. Weicher said, "The federal policy has been to terminate programs which were ineffective and, where it was possible, to replace them with programs that were likely to be effective. It is a policy which says don't spend money in ways in which analysts -- of both right and left -- say are not sensible ways to spend money."

Mr. Pinkerton, 33, the White House policy-planner, holds that out of crisis in the old urban system will come a new order, based on free trade, free choice, local empowerment, decentralization and accountability.

This is the New Paradigm (or model).

In inner-city terms, it translates into relying more on private investment for urban revitalization, transforming public housing tenants into owner-occupiers, giving parents greater choice in education, using at-work apprenticeship schemes as well as job training, and transferring more of the responsibility for solving the urban crisis from the federal to local level.

Mr. Pinkerton said, "I am optimistic. At the point when everyone ++ gives up on the cities, that is just the point when they will find the resources -- and I don't just mean money resources -- to build themselves up."

Charles Murray, senior fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said, "Jim Pinkerton's statement of the New Paradigm is as creative and as thought-through a policy statement on this [urban] issue as I have seen coming out of government in years and years."

But he added, "My reading is that the Bush administration has paid only lip service to that, and there is very little going on legislatively that is going to implement it."

The states are compensating for some of the lost federal funding, particularly in education. In 1989, they provided $153.3 billion in aid, against $142.5 billion in 1988. This represented 42 percent of all state spending. But many states, including Maryland, are now making their own budget cuts. Baltimore may lose $21 million in state aid, creating what Mayor Schmoke has called "a tragedy."

Raymond Scheppach, executive director of the National Governors' Association, said, "It's just not pretty. I sympathize with the inner cities . . . but I don't see any major restructuring of state budgets to help them out. I just think the money is not there."

The Bush administration launched a major inner-city housing program last year under the acronym "HOPE" -- for Homeownership and Opportunity for People Everywhere. Its aim: privatize public housing, turning low-income tenants into independent homeowners and reversing project deterioration. A skeptical Congress last month cut the administration's $865 million request for the first year of the HOPE program to $351 million.

The administration's tax-break enterprise-zone plan is stymied with other tax reforms in the House Ways and Means Committee. And its proposal to shift distribution of $15 billion worth of urban programs from the federal to the state level also appears all but dead on Capitol Hill.

Anthony Downs, senior fellow at the liberal Brookings Institution, said, "I would say the president has no policy on the inner cities whatsoever. He is uninterested in the subject, and never thinks about it. . . .

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