Mayors: Cities Need Federal Grant Money

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Cities and towns are being forced to lay off police and firefighters even as they brace for the possibility of terrorist attacks, the National League of Cities said Wednesday in urging more federal help.

``The challenges we face as a nation ... are not going to be solved by duct tape,'' said the group's president, Democratic Mayor John DeStefano Jr. of New Haven, Conn.

``These challenges we face in our cities and towns are going to be resolved when our firefighters show up, properly trained and properly equipped, to deal with whatever they may face,'' DeStefano said. Yet a budget shortfall pushed him to trim the New Haven police force by 5 percent, with similar cuts planned for the fire department.

DeStefano and other mayors in the organization, which represents 18,000 cities and towns, told a news conference that the economic slump is hitting cities hard.

They said President Bush's 2004 budget proposal for more than $3.5 billion to help first responders is not enough -- in part because it would be offset by plans to phase out other federal grants to police. Also, some of the money would go to existing federal emergency programs. The 2004 fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

Mayors also complained that they are struggling while waiting for $3.5 billion that Bush proposed to give first responders this year. Congress is working on the overdue budget for the 2003 fiscal year, which began last October.

But Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo said almost $1 billion of the 2003 money has been advanced to cities. ``The president made a substantial commitment to our first responders,'' Corallo said.

About one-fourth of the cities and towns that responded to an informal survey by the league said they were cutting police. Of 322 local governments, 16 percent said they had eliminated police positions in the past year; 8 percent expected to make such cuts soon.

Cities also are slicing spending on housing, health care and other services, as state budget crises are passed down, DeStefano said.

District of Columbia Mayor Anthony A. Williams said cities ``need economic stimulus right now.''

But Bush's proposal to repeal the federal tax on stock dividends would make matters worse by reducing state tax revenues and driving up the cost of borrowing through municipal bonds, said Williams, a Democrat.

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