City Pols Lobby Against Bush Budget Proposal

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Officials from cities across America are asking Congress to fight President Bush's planned cuts to a program they say has helped them clean up blight and slums.

Members of the National League of Cities (search) are adding their voices to those of lawmakers who have balked at Bush's budget proposal to cut $1 billion from community development grants, among other programs.

"We are going to hit Capitol Hill strong and we are going it hit it hard to make sure they understand our point of view," Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson said Friday as officials opened several days of lobbying efforts.

A recent survey of municipal officials found top problems facing communities are increasing traffic congestion, rising health care costs, underfunded mandated programs and inadequate housing, said Washington Mayor Anthony Williams.

All of those programs are under fire in Bush's fiscal year 2006 budget plan now before Congress, he said.

Because the top needs of local community officials "mirror some of the administration's severest cuts," some 2,400 municipal officials "are in Washington to fight for the saving of those programs," said James Hunt, a city council member from Clarksburg, W. Va.

"Do we offer clean, safe, affordable housing to the poorest in America?" asked Hunt. "I think the answer from cities across the country is 'Yes.' I think the answer from the administration, with the cuts proposed for (development grants and housing assistance), is a resounding 'No."'

Bush's own housing secretary Alphonso Jackson (search) has said he also opposed proposed changes. He was overruled by the White House on the program's stewardship, which the administration proposes to move from Housing and Urban Development to the Commerce Department — and then cut to $3.7 billion from $4.7 billion.

The Community Development Block Grant (search) program was established in 1974 and provides federal money to more than 1,000 municipalities. The money can be used for everything from lead abatement in old buildings to improving water and sewage facilities, and is aimed primarily at low-income neighborhoods.

Peterson said Indianapolis used grant money to turn a high-crime, half-abandoned slum into a beautiful, economically and racially diverse community that provides housing for 400 homeowners, half of them first-time owners. A few million dollars of federal grant money leveraged tens of millions of dollars of private investment for the project, he said.

Officials will tell lawmakers similar stories as they argue for various programs over the coming days, with the main lobbying push planned for Tuesday.