WASHINGTON -- Help.
That was the word yesterday from Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and other mayors who said President Bush's State of the Union address and budget proposals offered little assistance for America's stricken cities.
The mayor said he is not opposed to the Bush proposals for tax credits and aid to first-time home buyers.
"But in Baltimore, much of our population can't afford to buy a house or are too poor to pay taxes," the mayor told the Senate Banking Committee. "What will have an impact are jobs, houses and a sense of hope."
Mr. Schmoke was on Capitol Hill to press a U.S. Conference of Mayors' $35 billion emergency plan. The plan would include $15 billion for direct aid to cities -- based on fiscal distress and unemployment -- for public safety, public works, infrastructure, housing, education and social services.
The proposal also includes $2 billion for low-interest loans to small businesses locating in urban areas. Another $2.8 billion would go toward employment and training and summer jobs.
"Baltimore and other cities are facing an emergency," said Mr. Schmoke. "But it's an emergency that is well within your ability to resolve."
"America's cities are in crisis," added Mayor Joseph P. Ganim of Bridgeport, Conn., which filed for bankruptcy last year. "They are not just sick . . . they are dying."
Cities have been particularly hard hit by the recession. Job losses and a lax real estate market are drying up tax revenues, said Mayor Peggy Rubach of Mesa, Ariz. Her Sun Belt city, the nation's fastest growing city over 50,000 population in the 1980s, is now "struggling to provide basic services."
Banking Committee Chairman Donald W. Riegle Jr., D-Mich., said 42 percent of the nation's cities have had to raise taxes and cut services during the past year. A "national economic strategy" is needed, he said.
Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, D-Md., criticized President Bush for "cutting back once again on a number of programs for state and local government." Mr. Sarbanes cited the president'sproposed $500 million cut in the Community Development Block Grants, which provide local governments with money to upgrade housing and commercial areas.
But Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, said Congress is partly to blame for the cities' problems by requiring local governments to abide by costly federal regulations -- without providing extra money. When he was mayor of Salt Lake City 20 years ago, said the senator, he often referred to himself as the "local manager for the federal government."
Mayor Rubach agreed. She praised President Bush's proposal in his State of the Union address that the federal government pay for any regulations it places on cities. "Stop passing the buck without any bucks," she said.
The mayors suggested that their $35 billion plan be paid for with savings from Pentagon cutbacks. Mr. Sarbanes and other Democrats have suggested similar -- some even larger -- local aid plans that would be funded with defense savings.
But President Bush and congressional Republicans will be resisting those efforts.
The president has proposed a $50 billion cut in defense and brushed aside Democratic calls for higher reductions. The president plans to use his proposed $50 billion in defense savings to reduce the deficit. Mr. Bush may use some of those Pentagon cuts to pay for his increase in the tax exemption for a dependent child.