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Mayors: Congress Is Failing Cities

Mayors from across the country assailed Congress for not passing bills to create jobs and for making cuts to programs that benefit cities.

“The economic recovery is too slow and it’s a direct result of the inaction of this Congress,” Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said today at a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. He is the group’s president and a Democrat.

But frustration ran across party lines at the gathering of more than 300 mayors. Scott Smith, the Republican mayor of Mesa, Ariz., said Congress has done a poor job of determining what should be cut.

“We wish that Congress would recognize that cutting investment in capital that will provide a dividend is very different than cutting a wasteful program,” Smith, who serves as the conference’s second vice president, told Roll Call.

The mayors unveiled a report highlighting slow economic growth across American cities and they called for federal funding of infrastructure and transportation programs — such as highway improvements and high-speed rail — that would create jobs and increase America’s competitiveness abroad.

While in town, the mayors group met with high-ranking officials in the Obama administration and Members of Congress, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), to discuss such programs.

In his keynote address, Villaraigosa pressed lawmakers to pass President Barack Obama’s recent jobs proposal as well as a sustained payroll tax cut. Rousing applause followed his call to restore funding for Community Development Block Grants, which cities use to subsidize housing and other programs.

He blamed the Republican-led House for pursuing “a campaign strategy of inaction and obstruction designed to beat President Obama.”

Villaraigosa also called on the mayors to make their voices heard during the political season. Smith said he and others in the conference planned to reach out to the Republican presidential candidate once he is chosen, as they have already done with Obama.

The mayors group is nonpartisan but has more Democrats as members than Republicans. That sets it apart from the National Conference of State Legislatures, which currently counts more Republicans among its members. While the mayors pressed Washington, D.C., for more investment, the NCSL released a letter urging the president to “go big” in cuts to next year’s budget.

“We just don’t want the federal government to kind of export the debt onto the states. We realistically understand that there will be some cuts in terms of funding for the states,” NCSL spokesman Jon Kuhl said in an interview.

Smith, the Republican mayor, said the difference in perspective may have less to do with the groups’ partisan makeup than with the difference between local and state government.

“State legislators and Congress, they get a lot more into ideological battles,” he said, adding that cuts to federal programs such as the block grants simply shift the burden onto cash-strapped cities.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D) said she is disappointed with leaders of her party as well as the opposition.

“We are one bridge fail away from shutting down large portions of a city,” she said. “There’s a way for Congress to work with us to break gridlock.”

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