Really good piece, worth reading the whole thing. And of course the federal officials at the meeting were condescending, telling one mayor he should run for Congress:
CHICAGO — Near the end of a two-day summit here that brought together mayors and federal officials to talk about city design, the mood turned confrontational.
It started when Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, in the middle of a Friday discussion on the federal government’s role in city development, turned toward the Washington officials who were sitting with him on stage and expressed his disappointment.
“Mayors could never get away with the kind of nonsense that goes on in Washington,” he said. “In our world, you either picked up the trash or you didn’t. You either moved an abandoned car or you didn’t. You either filled a pothole or you didn’t. That’s what we do every day. And we know how to get this stuff done.”
That evidently hit a nerve, as cheers erupted through the Grand Ballroom of the Hilton hotel, where many in the audience were mayors. Manny Diaz, former mayor of Miami, who sat on stage with Nutter, gave an impromptu speech criticizing Washington lawmakers. Other mayors stood up and took the microphone during the question and answer session — not to ask questions, but to get things off their chests.
The event, co-sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Architectural Foundation and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, became, for a few minutes, a forum for mayors to express a difficult truth: Two-and-a-half years after the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, the nation’s cities still struggle with chronic budget gaps that can’t easily be filled. Tax revenue has plunged as property values have fallen and payrolls have shrunk. Local governments, many of which are legally required to balance their budgets, have made cuts that a few years ago would have been unthinkable.
Municipal budget woes stem partially from crises on the state level, which in turn aren’t helped by a lack of federal assistance. Federal dollars from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act covered less than half of states’ combined budget shortfall during this fiscal year, according to a recent report from the nonpartisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. Come next fiscal year, which for many states begins this July, states’ combined shortfall will exceed $110 billion, with only $6 billion in federal aid available, according to the report.
That leaves cities out in the cold, as states focus on solving their own problems. In Newark, aid from the state of New Jersey fell by 40 percent between 2008 and 2010, contributing to a budget crisis that eventually prompted the city, one of the country’s most dangerous according to FBI data, to lay off 13 percent of its police force late last year. In Milwaukee County, a community that has contended with a decade-long erosion of bus service, a transit cut in the coming state budget could deal a critical blow to the region’s public transportation.
“We get the brunt of what the recession really entails. We’re also the last to come out of that,” Ed Pawlowski, the mayor of Allentown, Pennsylvania, said in an interview after the panel discussion. “While the economy is getting slowly better, cities are still struggling in a significant way.”
Mayors want federal money. They say they can put it to quick and efficient use, creating jobs and helping improve the economy from the bottom up. Nutter gave an example: He closed Philadelphia’s crumbling South Street Bridge in 2008, initiating a two-year repair project that was completed on budget and a month early last fall, he said. But federal funds are running dry, as Washington lawmakers have become seemingly obsessed with a desire to cut the federal deficit.