City Leaders Face Aid Cuts, Tax Changes : ‘Grim Realism’ Colors Urban Conference

Associated Press

Leaders of the nation’s cities, after watching Congress eliminate major federal aid this year, faced what one official called a “grim realism” about the future of federal support for urban America as they gathered Saturday for a conference on city problems.

Nearly 5,000 municipal officials were arriving for the National League of Cities’ annual meeting, which also was expected to showcase this city’s young Latino mayor, Henry G. Cisneros.

Cisneros, who was among those interviewed and considered as a running mate by Democratic presidential nominee Walter F. Mondale in 1984, is ending a year as president of the League of Cities and is host for the gathering.

‘This last year has been one of the toughest the cities have ever had,” Cisneros said in an interview, recounting a year in which cities felt pressure from the Gramm-Rudman budget-cut legislation, the passage of federal tax overhaul and the elimination of general revenue sharing aid--at $4 billion the biggest of the direct urban aid programs.


“As a result, the cities have been battling this last year,” Cisneros said. “It’s been a defensive struggle. I like to have a set of initiatives, an offense, but the story of the last year has been strictly defense.”

The five-day meeting was expected to draw a record number of mayors, council members and city managerial officials from about 1,000 cities and towns. They represent virtually all the nation’s largest cities and most of its mid-sized ones.

Alan Beals, executive director of the league, said there is optimism among urban leaders about the vibrancy of cities, but that it is tempered by the prospect that domestic spending will continue to be targeted by Congress and the Reagan Administration.

“There are a lot of things that are going well in communities--more citizen involvement in local government, and there certainly is more private sector involvement,” Beals said.


“There are some good things happening, but there’s also a grim realism about the potential in Gramm-Rudman” and its required spending cuts, Beals said. “There hasn’t been a real urban policy.”

He said top concerns would be protecting what is left of the federal urban aid programs in the face of huge federal budget deficits, and urging Congress to cut back on the costly federal standards that cities must meet, such as in clean-water projects.

The conference has attracted at least three potential presidential candidates. Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt and Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, both among the Democratic aspirants, speak to the group on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively. Republican Howard H. Baker Jr., former Senate GOP leader from Tennessee, addresses the group Wednesday.

Among the others addressing delegates will be New York Mayor Edward I. Koch, Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, Sen. Dave Durenburger (R-Minn.), and opera singer and arts activist Beverly Sills.