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Webb Builds Support for New Agenda at NLC Meeting Conference President Receives Enthusiastic Response from City Delegates

By Jubi Headley and Ed Somers

Conference President Denver Mayor Wellington E. Webb stood before thousands of local elected officials gathered in Los Angeles for the National League of Cities Congress of Cities on December 3 to issue a challenge to the 2000 presidential candidates: embrace a sweeping 10 point agenda designed to "transform the relationship between the federal government and local municipalities throughout the country."

The NLC meeting, which celebrated the organization's 75 years of service to Americas cities and towns, was presided over by President Clarence Anthony, Mayor of South Bay, Florida Webb described the current relationship as "structurally flawed" and one that has not significantly changed in more than 20 years. Webb added that the whole concept of devolution has been "nothing more than a popular phrase" used by Washington politicians - a sentiment shared by the NLC members judging by their strong applause.

Mayor Webb reminded the Presidential candidates that the American economy is not being driven by the federal government or the 50 states for that matter - but by local economies. He pointed to a recent study completed by Standard and Poor's DRI for USCM and the National Association of Counties that found that 317 "metropolitan economic engines" - comprised of core cities, neighboring suburbs, surrounding counties and the businesses within them - are driving the national economy. These metro areas accounted for a staggering 89 percent (over $2 trillion) of the nation's economic growth for the period 1992-1998, and represent approximately four out of every five Americans.

"Metro economies quite often exceed entire state economies," Webb said. "And it is the mayors and local elected officials that are the CEOs of their cities - they are the ones promoting economic development, building arenas, enticing businesses and creating jobs."

Webb challenged the candidates and the federal government to take meaningful steps to ensure the continued strength of the metro economies, and to see that funds reach those they are intended to serve.

Webb also expressed continued concern that despite the current era of economic prosperity, people and places are still being left behind, and stressed that federal, state and local policies must promote investment in the nation's untapped domestic markets.

"If states have been given authority [by the federal government] for the Child Health Insurance Program to provide health care for kids who can't afford coverage and aren't eligible for Medicaid, but they just let that money sits in state coffers while millions of kids go without, I say give it to the cities-we can provide the care our kids need," Webb said.

Mayor Webb added, "If states want to let TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] money pile up, while we could use it to support the working poor in our cities, I say send the money to us-the people who need it are in our cities."

"I like to use a military metaphor" in describing the relationship between Congress, states and cities Webb told the crowd. "The states are like the navy, worrying about protecting their borders, making sure nobody infringes on them.... . The Congress is like the Air Force, dropping bombs on our cities without understanding how they affect those whom they hit-bombs like unfunded mandates," Webb quipped.

"We local elected officials are the infantry-the foot soldiers. You are the ones that defend your cities and towns to assure their safety. You are the ones that when tragedy or unrest occur, the people turn to. You're where the rubber hits the road," Webb told the audience.

To address the needs of these metro economies, The U.S. Conference of Mayors has developed "A New Agenda for American Cities" - a 10 point plan which calls on the next administration to:

  • Make Government More Responsive to Local Priorities & Metro Economies

  • Help Local Leaders Make America Even Safer

  • Invest in Kids and Public Schools

  • Confront America's Affordable Housing Crisis

  • Promote Arts, Cultural and Sporting Amenities

  • Direct Tax Cuts to Challenged Neighborhoods & Working Families

  • Help Communities Grow Smarter by Recycling America's Land, Preserving Open Space & Supporting Local Parks

  • Build a Competitive Workforce for the Global Economy

  • Modernize Our Infrastructure While Protecting Our Environment for Future Generations

  • Increase Access to Affordable Healthcare

The Agenda also calls for a new federal domestic policy advisor who has sweeping authority over the federal agencies to promote the economic well-being of the metro areas and provide regulatory flexibility to local governments to meet critical local needs, and to help cut across bureaucratic boundaries and reduce federal mandates. A draft copy of the 10 point agenda can be found at http://www.usmayors.org . The final version of the plan will be released at the 68th Winter Meeting of the Conference on June 25-28, 2000.

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