WASHINGTON -- Baltimore stands a chance of getting as much as $28.7 million in federal funds under a $3 billion urban aid package to come before Congress.
The House plans to consider legislation next month that
would authorize funds for the nation's most impoverished urban and rural areas to use for vital health, education, public safety and public works projects. The plan would authorize aid for 18,500 of the nation's neediest urban and rural areas to help them get back on their feet, resurrecting the federal revenue sharing program initiated by President Nixon in the early 1970s and brought to a halt in 1986.
This program is designed to provide needed short-term relief and would last only through fiscal 1993.
The federal funds would be parceled out based on a formula that considers unemployment, per capita income and tax levels of poor localities. It is designed to complement other measures Congress is considering, including legislation to establish "enterprise zones" in major cities.
After eight months of actively pushing this plan and two others, House Government Operations Committee Chairman John Conyers finally garnered enough support Tuesday from some Republicans to get his plan to the House floor.
The Michigan Democrat's plan would not be the final word on the actual funding of the program. That would fall on the shoulders congressional budget writers, who hold the federal government's purse strings.
"Recession, a stagnant economy, and diminished opportunity are discouraging characteristics that many communities across America share," Mr. Conyers said.
Congressional aides held out the possibility that the bill could bapproved prior to an October adjournment date.
But even Mr. Conyers acknowledged it faced "rough waters ahead." Since the early 1980s, direct federal payments to local governments has fallen off by more than 40 percent, he noted.
Some Republicans, such as Rep. Al McCandless, R-Calif., still believe applying the $3 billion to deficit reduction would put these areas back on track faster than through direct payments. Mr. McCandless called the plan "dishonest" because it would "promote a fantasy that the federal government has the revenues to share."
Rep. Gerald Kleczka, D-Wisc., one of the few dissentinDemocrats, said the "pure and simple truth is that the cities will never get the money."
Mr. Conyers' plan would require congressional budget writers tfund the plan through cuts in other domestic spending programs, eliminating fears expressed earlier this year by some officials that such a plan would add to the federal deficit.
The bipartisan support came at a cost, however, as Mr. Conyersoriginal plan was whittled down from $15 billion to $3 billion. The total number of cities and regions eligible for the plan also was cut to 18,500 from 39,000.
Under the original formula, areas such as Beverly Hills, Calif., anVeil, Colo., would have received federal funds. The measure drew mixed reactions outside of Capitol Hill.
Tom Halicki, spokesman for the National Association of Townand Townships, predicted the aid would mean "a drop in the bucket" to rural and small towns, even with the new formula which was designed to better accommodate these areas.
"Rural and small towns will get the crumbs out of this," Mr. Halicki claimed, predicting that most rural and small towns would never actually see the funds since they would fall under the $5,000 minimum payment, adding that most of those areas are cut off from federal funding available to larger cities.
Others, however, were more optimistic.
"Three billion is a lot," given today's federal budget situation, said Tom Cochran, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, who called Tuesday's committee action a "good sign."
The bill would pool funds for small communities together by state, and then send the money to the state governors, who would then divert them to regional public works projects.
If the bill fails to get through Congress before the session's end, there is still a chance that congressional budget writers, who are grappling with extremely tight resources, could still fund it without an authorization. This would depend on whether enough House members agree to waive rule prohibiting them from legislating through spending measures. The Senate already has this authority.