California mayors urge caution on federal budget cuts

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 24, 2011 

WASHINGTON — Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin is a loyal Republican who nonetheless fears her city could suffer under GOP budget-cutting.

Citing proposed reductions in community block grants and urban programs, Swearengin on Thursday joined West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon and other city leaders in warning about the tight spending bill approved by the House last week.

"It's clear that everything has got to be cut," Swearengin said, "but this is way too drastic."

Swearengin and Cabaldon, a Democrat, share common concerns. Both are adding their voices this week to a U.S. Conference of Mayors' call for restraint in federal budget cuts.

The mayors are speaking up at a politically opportune time. The $1.1 trillion House bill, with its overall $61 billion in federal spending cuts, has now crashed into the Senate. If lawmakers cannot agree on at least a temporary measure by March 4, the government will shut down.

But if Congress goes ahead with the cuts envisioned by the House bill, mayors say cities will feel the pain; particularly, Cabaldon said, if California Gov. Jerry Brown simultaneously succeeds in eliminating redevelopment agencies.

All told, the House bill would strip California of an estimated $314 million in block grant funds this year, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

"We are having our state and federal partners pull out of our poorest communities," Cabaldon said. "It would be utterly devastating."

In West Sacramento, Cabaldon noted, the federal block grant funds help pay for homeless assistance, affordable housing and support for the city's numerous mobile home parks, among other things. In Fresno, Swearengin said, the funds support public safety, land use planning, code enforcement and more.

Mayors fret annually about federal budget cuts; it's part of the job description, particularly with perennially targeted programs like Community Development Block Grants. Even the Obama administration, for instance, proposed cutting the grant program by 7.5 percent for next year.

"We have gone down this road many times before," acknowledged Elizabeth Kautz, the mayor of Burnville, Minn., and the president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Last week, though, the Republican-controlled House accelerated the perennial debate by approving a far more ambitious package of cuts covering the remaining seven months of fiscal 2011.

"These cuts represent tough choices," said House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, "but we owe it to future generations to leave them with an America that is more prosperous than the one we inherited."

The budget package includes significant reductions in high-speed rail, Internal Revenue Service enforcement, Head Start, community health centers and public broadcasting, among many other programs.

A proposed 62 percent reduction in community block grants amounts to a cut of more than $2.5 billion nationwide.

Fresno received some $12.7 million through the block grant program in 2010. Sacramento received $10.7 million, Modesto received $3.8 million and Merced received $1.9 million.

West Sacramento received "several hundred thousand dollars," Cabaldon said.

"It's real bread and butter for us," Swearengin said. "I completely respect the need for cuts, but we have to be smart about it."

McClatchy Newspapers 2011

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