Lawmakers at yesterday's hearing, including the mayors of New Orleans and Minneapolis, criticized Bush administration proposals to transfer responsibility for more social programs from federal to state governments. And they called for stepped-up federal assistance - "a domestic Marshall Plan" - that would rebuild U.S. cities as the Marshall Plan rebuilt Europe after World War II.
"Our domestic agenda is in retreat," said Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D., Mich.), whose Government Operations Committee called the hearing. "With the war now over, it is high time to counter the rout we are suffering on our own home front. We have liberated Kuwait but are in danger of losing New York, Philadelphia, Detroit and other cities."
While no one at the hearing could say where they would get the massive infusion of dollars for cities, Conyers vowed to try "to do something rather than just have public relations sessions in which we notify the country of the problems."
Conyers urged that the government restore revenue sharing, in which federal
funds were distributed to cities.
At the hearing, the National League of Cities released a report on "City Fiscal Distress," which showed that cities increasingly are plagued by dwindling federal aid, eroding tax bases, loss of jobs and population to the suburbs and large numbers of residents in poverty.
To show the relative economic health of cities and suburbs, the report charted the disparities in per-capita income between 62 larger U.S. cities and their suburbs between 1980 and 1987. The gap between city and suburban incomes had narrowed during the preceding quarter-century, the report said, so that in 1980, per-capita city incomes averaged about 89 percent of per-capita suburban incomes.
But by 1987, the gap had widened, and per-capita city incomes averaged less than 60 percent of the per-capita suburban incomes. In 1987 in Detroit, according to the study, the average per-capita suburban income was $19,755, while the average per-capita city income was $9,662 - less than 49 percent of the suburban figure.
Mayor Sidney Barthelemy of New Orleans contended that blight had attacked cities the way Iraqi President Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait. The United States leapt to the rescue of Kuwait, he said.
"We didn't say to them, 'It's a local problem, you should stand on your own two feet,' " he said. "Well, look at America's cities and the people who live in them. We're here saying we've got some menaces we can't solve by ourselves: drugs, poverty, poor housing, illiteracy."