Congress, it’s time to fight for cities
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America’s cities are the foundation of our nation’s economy. From the 8.5 million residents of New York to the five inhabitants of Thurmond, W.Va., cities generate 91 percent of the nation’s GDP and make up 86 percent of the population. Cities are the centers for innovative startups, family businesses, arts communities, research centers and the very fabric of our public life.

But now, cities are under threat — by short-sighted budget cuts that would be devastating to the prosperity and stability of millions of American families.

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Last week, the White House released a budget proposal that slashes funding for crucial programs that cities and their residents rely on. The proposal includes cuts to affordable housing, workforce training, clean drinking water, and assistance for homeless veterans, to name just a few. Altogether, it adds up to $54 billion of lost investment in cities and citizens.

Many of these programs are among the government’s most effective — and its most popular. HUD’s Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), which help cities invest in public-good projects like firehouses, police stations, sewer systems, and domestic violence shelters, have provided a lifeline to rural communities for decades. Under the budget proposal, that program would be eliminated.

The cuts would be particularly devastating for small towns. America’s infrastructure is trapped in a maintenance crisis, with collapsing bridges and lead-tainted water supplies as just some of the most visible consequences. The administration’s proposed budget would exacerbate that crisis — and the consequences would explode in severity.

That’s why this week I joined more than 2,400 local officials from around the country for the National League of Cities’ (NLC) Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C. Each March, NLC convenes city leaders from across the country to advocate on behalf of their communities’ needs and priorities. In this year’s uncertain climate, attendance hit its highest level in a decade.

On Wednesday, our delegation of city leaders traveled to Capitol Hill to deliver a message to Congress: We cannot balance the budget with cuts that undermine the economic health of our communities.

In 2010, federal funding was essential when Cedar Rapids, Iowa, rebuilt after devastating floods. In Nebraska, small towns use federal grants to leverage other investment and bring business back to Main Street. My home city of Cleveland uses CDBG funding for everything from food banks to small business loans. All this funding would be cut under the administration’s proposal—and millions of Americans would suffer.

Investment in American cities is investment in America, period. Funding cuts on the scale of the administration’s proposal would threaten community well-being and prosperity in every city and town.

This month, I was proud to join more than 650 local officials who signed NLC’s action letter asking Congress to stand with cities and oppose these savage budget cuts. It’s a chance to write one more chapter in our nation’s productive history of federal-local partnerships. Those partnerships have propelled America forward and created the world’s most powerful and respected democracy.

We’re ready to fight to build an even stronger federal-local partnership, but only if Congress is willing to fight for stronger cities. When cities are strong, America prospers.

NLC President Matt Zone, councilmember, Cleveland.

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.