- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 9, 2000

Competition and free markets are certainly among the most revered of Republican principles. Strange, then, that the GOP consistently abandons these convictions when it comes to competing for urban voters. For years, Republicans have been absent without policy (AWOP) regarding the discourse over cities. As a result, and not surprisingly, Republican candidates have fared miserably in attracting votes and winning urban elections.

This windfall for the Democratic Party comes with a price. By conceding cities to Democrats, Republicans relegate much of urban America to be governed by a single political party. Much of what troubles urban America today is partially the product of Republican neglect. The legacy of one-party rule in American cities speaks for itself: poor municipal services, high taxes, broken schools, substandard housing and inadequate health services.

Republican principles of local control, fiscal accountability and individual responsibility provide a blueprint for a successful transformation of our cities. The journey before us is formidable. Many of the constituencies that comprise urban America are, at best, suspicious and at worst, hostile to the Republican Party.

The Republican Party must begin to invest politically and intellectually in our cities. The Urban Policy Task Force of the Republican Main Street Partnership is engaged in this effort. Founded in 1998, it consists primarily of Republican elected officials brought together for the purpose of providing issue research, discussion and policy development from a "governing Republican's perspective."

Recently, the Urban Policy Task Force published the first in a series of monographs addressing the consequences of years of municipal mismanagement, heavy taxation and "quick fix" solutions directed from the federal government. Five topics were confronted: economic development, environmental clean-up, livable communities, housing and illegal drugs. The policy recommendations contained in the monograph build on successful Republican initiatives currently offered at the local, state and federal level.

Not withstanding the current economic boom, many cities are being left behind. Onerous tax burdens definitely contribute to the decline of four cities. Eight of the 10 major cities that lost population during the 1990s have per capita tax burdens above the national medium. In addition to lowering the tax burden on urban residents and businesses, the Urban Policy Task Force recommends expanding the size and scope of empowerment zones, providing tax incentives to employers who hire urban residents under 21 years of age, and the development of small business start-up accounts.

The consequences of past environmental contamination continue to afflict our cities in the form of brownfields. Brownfields are abandoned, idle, or under-used industrial and commercial properties where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived contamination. The U.S. Conference of Mayors estimates that redevelopment of brownfields could lead to the creation of 675,000 new jobs and the expansion of the local tax base by up to $2.7 billion. Burdensome federal mandates and regulations impede clean-up efforts and redevelopment.

Confronting sprawl and improving the livability of our cities must be a priority of Republicans. The Urban Policy Task Force recommends better planning, especially with respect to regional transportation, and the preservation of open spaces. After decades of high taxes, poor services, and burdensome regulations, businesses have fled many of our urban centers in favor of the suburbs, leaving our cities with high concentrations of poverty and unemployment. Every effort must be made to address this imbalance, including redirecting our public transportation systems to provide our urban citizens access to job opportunities in the suburbs.

In addition, the Urban Policy Task Force encourages communities to act in a fiscally responsible manner and to eliminate taxpayer subsidies for over-development. Expanding home ownership opportunities must be considered central to our party's efforts to rebuild America's cities. In addition to stabilizing communities, home ownership is an economic development tool, which enables the accumulation of wealth in the form of home equity. To achieve this goal, the Urban Policy Task Force supports the creation of first-time home buyer tax credit for use in urban areas.

Moreover, the Urban Policy Task Force favors an expansion of a recent bipartisan reform involving the Federal Section 8 Housing Program, which allows low-income individuals, who qualify, to use their rental assistance dollars for mortgage subsidies.

The devastating impact of illegal drugs on our cities is another issue that Republican principles address well. The Urban Policy Task Force recommends aggressive drug prevention and treatment efforts to combat the demand for illegal drugs. Among other things, this support extends to the use of drug treatment vouchers, which would guarantee greater access to quality rehabilitation programs for uninsured individuals. Aside from the obvious humanity associated with helping individuals reclaim their lives, the combined costs associated with permitting the addiction to go untreated is seven times greater than the cost of treatment.

Millions of Americans, who reside in our cities, will benefit from the application of our party's principles and policies. We must commit to this crusade with passion and persistence if our cities and party are to succeed.

David A. Catania is a Republican member of the D.C. City Council and an attorney with Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, L.L.P.

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