Last week, a group of Tampa City Council members flew to Washington for the National League of Cities’ annual Congressional City Conference, the first held in the Donald Trump administration.
It was not very encouraging, at least for the three Democrats.
“The consensus of the participants was fear, primarily of the unknown,” said Council Chair Mike Suarez.
The meetings took place concurrently to the unveiling of Trump’s proposed federal budget, which eliminates funding for the HOME Investment Partnership Program, which provides grants for low-income people to buy or rehabilitate homes, and the Choice Neighborhoods program, which provides grants to organizations attempting to revitalize neighborhoods.
It also would get rid of the $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program, which Suarez says “will severely hamper the city’s ability to provide help to our citizens.”
The proposed budget cuts also include removing the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program, set up by the Obama administration’s 2009 economic stimulus package to provide an extra injection of cash for surface transportation projects. That program has distributed more than $5 billion for more than 400 projects, including Tampa’s Riverwalk.
Councilwoman Yolie Capin said the trip was expensive and what she mostly got out of “was all pretty bad news.”
“We’re pretty much on our own, the cities are, that’s what I got from it,” she said, adding that “it was my first League of Cities National Convention, and probably my last.”
Suarez says he served on a panel at the conference on the deductibility of Municipal Bonds, which, if eliminated, “would reduce the number of projects cities could fund and make our borrowing more expensive.”
Councilman Harry Cohen has also attended the conference during Obama’s term. He says it was a lot different last week.
“During the Obama years, the administration sent many top officials to speak to and interact with the elected officials from cities across the country,” he wrote in a text. “We heard from Vice President [Joe] Biden, the head of the EPA, cabinet secretaries, etc. They were interested in and engaged with what was happening in America’s cities. This year, the only confirmed speaker from the administration was Attorney General Jeff Sessions — who ultimately canceled (EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt did speak at the event). Other than a few holdovers, we were totally ignored. They had nothing to say to us and they made no effort to pretend otherwise.”
Suarez says he remains hopeful that the Trump administration will give a boost to the cities when he releases his promised $1 trillion infrastructure plan. But there are some concerns now that with the President and the congress fixated on health care currently and a major tax overhaul later this year, that infrastructure plan may not happen as intended.
“Here’s a president who talks one thing — ‘oh, we’re going to have a huge rebuilding plan in America,’ and then the first budget comes out, and there’s nothing there,” Tampa Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor told FloridaPolitics.com this week. “So his rhetoric is not matching what he promised.”
White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said the White House is targeting “inefficient programs” and will shift funds into “more efficient infrastructure programs later on.”