The League’s History
Recognizing that the League’s program already had many urban implications, the 1976 Convention added Cities/Urban Crisis to the national program as a “specific focus for information and action on urban problems.” Members examined urban connections among existing League positions in order to open up new action opportunities to address the desperate plight of many urban areas.
The 1978 Convention reaffirmed the League’s interest in the urban problem by adopting an “evaluation of urban policy options, with emphasis on fiscal policy.” Leagues drew on their preliminary explorations of urban problems for a more structured study of the appropriate federal role in the intergovernmental responsibility for cities. In June 1979, the national board announced a new position, enabling the League to take a strong stand on targeting federal assistance to distressed cities, especially through urban economic development assistance programs to encourage private reinvestment in cities. It also supports general and targeted direct financial assistance to cities.
During the consensus process, it was made clear that re-storing economic health to the nation’s cities requires the combined state, local and federal government efforts. State Leagues have used the position to work for targeted state aid to distressed areas, and local Leagues have pushed for improved city management to make better use of diminishing resources.
The League’s first national action campaign under the position involved the 1980 reauthorization of General Revenue Sharing. Building upon the previous monitoring and action to strengthen GRS (see Equal Access position), the Urban Policy position reaffirmed support for strong civil rights and citizen participation requirements and auditing standards, and for a more equitable distribution of funds. The League worked with a coalition toward these ends, and was successful on all but the last issue.
Under the Urban Policy position, the League has supported expansion of Economic Development programs and the reauthorization of Urban Development Action Grants (UDAG). In efforts to bring more jobs to urban areas, the League also has supported the location of federal facilities in distressed cities.
Local and state Leagues implemented the position on the home front, fighting to save downtown businesses from extinction, commenting on local UDAG applications, working for public/private cooperation in the revitalization of city neighborhoods, undertaking citizen education activities to spur interest in improving the quality of urban life.
In 1979, under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the LWVEF and a number of local
Leagues worked to increase public awareness of urban problems and solutions. Another grant enabled the LWVEF to sponsor an exchange between Leagues in the industrial heartland and the Sunbelt.
The 1980 Convention changed Urban Crisis to Urban Policy. A new focus on urban transportation united the League’s long-time concerns about access to jobs, air quality, land use and energy with newer concerns about urban economic development and municipal finances. In Washington, the LWVUS opposed crippling cuts in mass transit operating assistance and unsuccessfully pushed for legislation to increase federal aid for capital and operating expenses.
The League’s Position
Statement of Position on Urban Policy, as Announced by National Board, June 1979 and revised by the National Board in 1989:
The League of Women Voters of the United States believes that it is in the national interest to promote the well-being of America’s cities.
Sharply targeted federal assistance to distressed cities should be central to this policy. The federal government should give highest priority in urban policy to measures that enhance the economic base of cities. The League also favors supplementary federal aid for cities in distressed fiscal condition and grants for particular program areas as strategies to counter the problems of hardship cities.
The fiscal health of cities depends on the active cooperation of all levels of government. The federal government should provide incentives to encourage states to take an active role in promoting the fiscal viability of their cities.
The League is committed to an urban environment beneficial to life and to resource management in the public interest.
Economic Development Assistance
The cornerstone of a national urban policy is a commitment to helping cities achieve economic strength. Federal programs to encourage private reinvestment in central cities should counter an eroding tax base and provide jobs for the inner-city unemployed. Therefore, the League supports the following federal strategies:
- Target community development programs to cities most in need.
- Encourage businesses to locate or expand in distressed cities through such financial incentives as investment tax credits, loan guarantees, subsidies for hiring the long-term unemployed and interest subsidies.
- Expand middle-income housing while not diminishing attention to low-income housing needs.
- Target federal purchasing and location of federal facilities in distressed cities.
General Financial Assistance
The League supports a variety of federal strategies, including direct general assistance, targeted to distressed cities. Such a program should include aid to counter recession. In providing federal aid for particular program areas, grants offer city governments the best opportunities to meet local needs.
- In order to increase the availability of funds to city governments for capital expenditures, the federal government should use mechanisms to lower the cost of borrowing.
- Aid to cities should include technical assistance to improve management capacity.