WASHINGTON -- Recession-weary local governments, burdened with low tax revenues and decreasing federal aid, have become like tired car batteries, officials told Congress yesterday.
"Give us a jump start," pleaded John Stroger, first vice president of the National Association of Counties.
Mr. Stroger and other local officials appeared before the House Budget Committee yesterday asking for federal recovery programs that would use defense savings to help state and local government with public works programs, job training, education and help for the poor.
"While constituents don't really believe it, most states like Maryland have really cut back on state government," said Maryland state Sen. Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery,appearing on behalf of the National Council on State Legislatures.
But, Mr. Levitan said, the burden of federally required programs -- such as Medicaid -- continues to grow. Medicaid, which covers health costs for the poor and disabled, is the fastest growing part of the Maryland budget, increasing from 8 percent to 16 percent during the past decade, he said.
"I think we're all drowning under the Medicaid system," he said, urging more federal aid for Medicaid and AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children).
Meanwhile, Boston Mayor Raymond L. Flynn suggested a $35 billion program to rebuild America's roads and bridges and invest in education and public safety.
Mr. Flynn, pushing a bipartisan plan from the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said public works projects in 300 cities, including Baltimore, areready to go -- if $8.6 billion in federal funds is set aside for them.
"Our greatest threat is no longer the 'Red Menace' but the 'Pink Slip.' . . . It's time to put Americans back to work," Mayor Flynn said.
Budget Committee Chairman Leon Panetta, D-Calif., criticized the Bush budget for cutting federal aid programs to the states, such as Community Development Block Grants, low-income energy assistance and mass transit operating funds.
The president also has suggested capping the federal share of Medicaid payments as a way to help finance his health-care plan.
But Mr. Panetta, who will be working on Congress' own budget proposal, warned the local leaders that defense savings will not accumulate that quickly. "This is a little bit like Macy's talking to TWA," he said, referring to the two financially troubled companies.