- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Some of the nation’s mayors are vowing to fight an item in President Bush’s budget that would cut local grants for housing and economic development.

Mr. Bush wants to eliminate the 30-year-old Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. The program’s budget essentially would be cut in half and the program consolidated into a new one called Strengthening America’s Communities.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, called the program’s name “an insult to every American with an intellect.”

“It’s not an initiative. It’s a retreat. It does not strengthen America’s cities, it weakens America’s cities,” Mr. O’Malley said.

Mr. O’Malley joined D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, a Democrat, and counterparts from other cities across the country at a press conference yesterday to express outrage at proposed changes to the program, which was started by President Nixon.

Mr. Williams, who spoke as president of the National League of Cities, said the CDBG program is one of the best for achieving some of the very economic growth goals that the president supports.

“Without these grant funds, our cities and counties face an even steeper uphill battle to create the kind of livable communities we’re talking about,” Mr. Williams said.

The District is using grant money along with private funds for a shopping center in Southeast, which the mayor said willbring 300 permanent jobs and 300 construction jobs.

In the Washington suburbs, Fairfax and Prince George’s counties are slated to receive $7 million each this year under the program, while Montgomery County is getting $6 million.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan said the program has helped pay for affordable housing, English lessons and small-business loans.

“It’s helping real people with real problems,” said Mr. Duncan, who defended the need for wealthy counties like his to receive the grants, saying they still have pockets of poverty.

Mr. Duncan, a Democrat, also said residents would welcome improvements to make the program more efficient, over eliminating the program altogether.

The Real Estate Round Table — a group made up of property owners, developers and managers — said the grants attract private money, and the improvements they fund help increase the property tax base.

The group said property taxes nationwide account for, on average, 70 percent of local governments’ tax revenue.

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