Local Governments Dabble in War Debate

Published February 24, 2003

| FoxNews.com

War -- it's a far cry from debating garbage pick-up times and how to fill that bothersome pothole down the street.

As local governments across the country pass resolutions condemning a U.S. attack on Iraq, some are questioning why their town boards are getting involved in foreign policy when problems closer to home need attention.

As of Friday, 104 U.S. cities and two state legislatures -- Maine's House and Senate and Hawaii's House -- have passed resolutions rejecting a pre-emptive strike by the United States on Iraq.

"It's an issue that each city needs to take a look at," said Michael Reinemer, spokesman for the National League of Cities. "I think where a city council believes that it needs to make a statement, of course they can do that. Other cities will want to focus more on issues that they really have a direct influence over."

Some local officials say war would increase terrorism here at home and cost huge mounds of money that the country simply cannot afford.

"There is tremendous opposition to having much-needed taxpayer dollars diverted to what many see as an unnecessary and unwise war when we're facing local and state budget crises at proportions we haven't seen in 50 years," said Karen Dolan, coordinator of Cities for Peace, a project of the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies.

"They want the money to shore up the gaps at home," she said.

Cities that have passed resolutions include Washington, D.C.; Baltimore; Seattle; San Francisco; Santa Cruz, Calif.; Carrboro, N.C.; Ithaca, N.Y.; New Haven, Conn.; Olympia, Wash. and Santa Fe., N.M. Representatives of these cities met in Washington last week to urge President Bush to heed citizens' concerns.

Over 100 more localities are considering such resolutions.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the war may cost $17 to $45 billion a year, at minimum. Their worst-case scenario, the one that factors in all the things that could go wrong, tops out at almost $1.6 trillion, according to IPS.

Although many anti-war cities say war dollars could pay for services, some officials in cities that aren't giving in to the anti-war sentiment contend local elected representatives need to concentrate on municipal problems like waterways and police issues, not foreign affairs.

"We ought to focus on sidewalks, not Saddam," Los Angeles City Council Jack Weiss told board members and a packed room of 200 anti-war activists Tuesday, as that body reached a stalemate on whether to pass a resolution. "This is a place to talk about police reform, not the Persian Gulf. This is a place to talk about an improved Los Angeles, not Iraq."

Park City, Utah officials had similar feelings on the matter.

The city council there was asked by a group of citizens to issue a resolution of opposition to the possible war with Iraq. But Mayor Dana Williams said the council wasn't convinced it was an issue they should debate. Some council members also said they were hesitant to support a statement against the federal government, fearing congressional repercussions.

"While I have concerns as a citizen of the U.S.A. regarding the appropriateness of this potential action, I do not feel that it is appropriate for a city government to enact resolutions regarding foreign policy," Park City Councilman Jim Hier told Foxnews.com. "I do not feel that it is within the scope of our city laws and regulations to adopt a resolution regarding foreign policy, nor is it within our knowledge base to understand the issues well enough to do so."

Summit County Commissioner Ken Woolstenhulme in Utah added that debate on a resolution would be a waste of taxpayers' time and money.

Anti-war advocates say cities should get involved because of the local trickle-down effects that would be felt by communities. This includes an increased call up of military reservists, which leads to less homeland security and emergency response personnel on hand.

But others say local gestures don't mean squat in the grand scheme of things.

"These things are really political. [Cities] don't have any power to deny resources to the federal government or manpower or anything like that," said John Samples, director of the Center for Representative Government at the Cato Institute, a Washington-based think tank. "They are really just a way for some cities and their leaders to signal to the federal government they don't like something."

Samples said many towns and cities that adopt such resolutions have colleges or other liberal communities that may consider war and peace higher priorities than better roads and schools.

"I would suspect that what you would find is that the people that are close to the local electorate are pretty much doing what their constituents want them to do," he said. "And if it's a trade-off, they may be doing something for these particular groups more than fixing streets."

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