WASHINGTON - The House Government Operations Committee yesterday approved a bill to provide about 18,500 towns and cities hard hit by the recession with a $3 billion cash infusion that would be distributed under a revived revenue-sharing formula.
The vote was 31 to 10.
"This bill would update and resuscitate for a year the General Revenue Sharing law President Nixon persuaded Congress to adopt in 1972," said Chairman John Conyers, D-N.Y., the bill's author. Revenue sharing was killed 15 years later during the Reagan era in Congress' war against triple-digit budget deficits.
Unlike the old revenue sharing program, funding under the bill would be targeted more to high unemployment areas, and wealthy areas would be precluded from receiving any funding. The bill also would require cities to spend the money within one year on public safety, health, public works programs, federally mandated programs, and social services, Rep. Conyers said.
The committee approved amendments to the bill that Rep. Conyers drafted in negotiations with committee Republicans to overcome a stalemate that developed over the bill earlier this year. One would cut back the amount of funding from $5.4 billion to $3 billion, and another would require the congressional appropriation committees to cut other domestic programs to fund the one-shot infusion.
Rep. Ronald Machtley, R-R.I., said the lower funding makes the bill seem more "reasonable" and deficit-conscious. But others said that $3 billion was still an unrealistic amount in light of the tight budgetary pressures facing the appropriations committees.
Rep. Geraid Kleczka, D-Wis., contended that the committee had only replaced a "big lie" with a "smaller lie." He added, "the truth is, the cities will never receive this money. We are throwing a sop to the mayors."
Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., said he supported the changes, but agreed that "it is doubtful the legislation will be signed into law or that anyone will appropriate the funds. "
Rep. Ted Weiss, D-N.Y., objected to the requirement that the appropriations committees cut other programs to provide the aid, saying it would " rob Peter to pay Paul. " And Congress' independent member from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, insisted that the bill's funding is too low.
"We had enough money to go to war in the Persian Gulf, build B-2 bombers and the Super Conducting Super Collider," he said. "We need to make our cities and towns a major priority."
But Rep. Conyers defended the compromise, saying "let us not predict what the appropriations committees will do. They have the money and they have to make the choices," he said.
Before approving the bill, the operations committee rejected an amendment by Rep. Bob Wise, D-W.Va., chairman of the House's infrastructure task force, that would have required cities to devote 50% of the proposed aid to infrastructure projects.
The committee's subcommittee on human resources and intergovernmental relations approved the bill earlier in the day, but rejected an amendment aimed at preventing Congress from imposing unfunded mandates on states and cities. The amendment would have required Congress to fund any new requirements passed on to the states.
The amendment's sponsor, Rep. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., conceded that Congress is not likely to approve such a prohibition anytime soon. "This is an activist Congress that likes telling everybody else what to do," he said. But he added that approval of the revived revenue sharing proposal "just isn't in the cards, either."