Differing Priorities Create Tension between Cities, States
By Mary Branham Dusenberry, CSG Managing Editor
Tennessee Sen. Mark Norris has already seen tempers flare between state and local officials over federal stimulus money just short of a month after President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
The mayor of Norris’ home county has publicly chastised Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen over the funding. Shelby County Mayor A.C. Wharton told his local Kiwanis Club he wanted to make sure Bredesen “does not take those revenues that are supposed to be shared with the cities and counties to fill his billion-dollar hole in his budget,” according to the Memphis Flyer.
“The fact is that some funds will flow directly to metropolitan areas through their (metropolitan planning organizations), but the lion’s share should otherwise be subject to legislative appropriations,” Norris said.
Some mayors across the country aren’t so sure they’ll see much benefit from the stimulus funding because many “shovel ready” projects may not be in the most populated areas. Others question whether state governments will be looking out for metropolitan areas, which are targeted in the stimulus to receive 30 percent of funding that goes to states. Consider this:
In North Carolina, mayors in Raleigh and Charlotte—the state’s two most populous areas—complain projects forwarded by the state do little to address transportation problems.
In Nevada, the state’s plan for its $140 million stimulus transportation pot fueled debate over spending, when the highly-populated Clark County—home to Las Vegas—received only $19 million, according to USA Today.
In New Hampshire, some city officials complain the state is moving too slow—that state officials are dragging their feet or having trouble interpreting and reacting to requirements of the stimulus law, according to an article on msnbc.com.
Leslie Wollack, principal legislation counsel, federal relations, with National League of Cities, said in a webcast to city officials, “the influx of funding is also exacerbating some of the long-standing differences in transportation priorities within the state, and concerns local governments have had over the underlying surface transportation law, which is what is guiding the economic recovery package.”
The economic stimulus package is aimed at projects that can create jobs quickly. Wollack acknowledged that “states are under enormous pressure to get their projects started quickly in order not to risk losing their funding …”
In fact, North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue told USA Today most of the early repaving projects are aimed at getting people back to work and meeting the legislative criteria. Subsequent projects, she said, will be more substantive.
While job creation is a key criterion for use of stimulus money, Will Schroeer, state policy director for Smart Growth America, said in the National League of Cities webcast there are different goals within that criterion.
“It’s not necessarily the case that a project that would create the most jobs, the most sustainable jobs over the long run, would also create them the most quickly,” he said. “It’s also not necessarily the case that the project that would create the most jobs would create them in distressed areas, which is one of the explicit goals of the Recovery Act.”
But Norris believes proper legislative appropriation is the key to that. “It is the only process by which state governments can honestly say they are looking out for various interests, including local governments,” he said. “Unfortunately, however, that is the very process which seems increasingly imperiled by overzealous officials from state executive branches whose activities threaten to become more contentious.”
He contends some states may be moving too fast. Norris said governors “seem compelled to act precipitously in announcing infrastructure expenditures or increases in unemployment compensation without appropriate legislative authorization.”
Governors acting without legislative oversight, “perhaps in their zeal to get ‘out front,’ are creating legal and policy problems for themselves down the road,” he said. “If expenditures are made without appropriate legislative authorization, they may be subject to attack, not only from local governments but the federal government itself.”