WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
First the public got the good news. President Barack Obama’s proposed 2013 budget released last Monday throws a life line to local governments with additional money to keep police on the streets and teachers in the classroom.
The fine print contained the bad news. With deficit reduction a top priority in Washington, D.C., President Obama is keeping his end of the deal made with House Republicans during the debt ceiling debate, identifying a trillion dollars in cuts to so-called discretionary domestic spending for the next ten years. As a result, his proposed budget does make substantial cuts to block grants and infrastructure programs, which many localities depend on to help shore up the social safety net and basic services. If the cuts go ahead as projected it will result in a major downsizing of the flow of federal dollars to state and local governments. Some of the proposed cuts include:
A spokesperson for the Bloomberg administration said they had yet to get a comprehensive briefing on the budget's impact for the city. But Bill Dressel, executive director with the New Jersey League of Municipalities said his preliminary assessment was that the total impact of the potential federal cuts would "be catastrophic for local governments" already reeling from the impact of slumping real estate values and hurting property tax revenues.
Chris Hoene, with the National League of Cities, said the infrastructure cuts come at the same time the federal government is raising the bar on water quality standards which force locals to make capital improvements the federal government won't help pay for.
“Years ago the federal government was a pretty active partner in capital investment in states, cities and counties across the country," Hoene said. "Today, they have largely moved out of the funding side of the equation and they are increasingly mostly active on the regulatory side."
The proposed budget wasn’t all bad news. Local officials from towns along the Passaic River did welcome the president's commitment to spend more than a million dollars on developing comprehensive mapping of their beleaguered flood plain. One congressional source said the president’s visit to Tropical Storm Irene ravaged Paterson made a lasting impression.
The cuts in domestic discretionary spending envisioned as part of the deal on raising the debt ceiling don't take effect until January of 2013.