At a ULI Fall Meeting program with four U.S. mayors, Julia Stasch, vice president of U.S. programs at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, got right to the point: “We’re not three weeks away from the longest government shutdown. What did it look like in your city?”
Mayors Pedro Segarra of Hartford, Connecticut; Greg Fischer of Louisville, Kentucky; R.T. Rybak of Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Marilyn Strickland of Tacoma, Washington—all alumni of the ULI Rose Center for Public Leadership in Land Use fellowship program—agreed that though the halt of funding for many programs was eye-opening, their responsibility for managing public investments would not wait for Congress to figure out its partisan problems.
“It focused attention on the need for local government. We take care of business,” Fischer said.
“It eroded the credibility of [federal] government, in some way,” Strickland said. “The trickle-down effect on the ground was that many people in the community went on furlough and we were responsible for everyday decisions of how to address their needs because they no longer had an income.”
Much of the conversation centered on the struggle of leading at the local level, investing limited municipal resources in transportation and infrastructure projects, and providing services to support the health and well-being of citizens. All agreed that the challenge of overseeing public funding was less about ideology and more about investment in a community’s places and people.
“There are many projects that we control, but we need to be demanding of how tax dollars are used—not retreat—and how we invest our limited personnel,” said Rybak. “The issue of lurching from one partisan issue to the next puts pressure on our human capital as well as the municipal budget.”
Fischer added that implications of the standoff in Congress go beyond just budgetary concerns. “Is this a country where we support the development of individuals, or one where if you don’t have it already, you’re on your own? Cities cannot be viable under the new model; shared prosperity is important,” he said.
When Stasch asked if there are priorities that cities can address on their own rather than deferring to federal policy, Segarra noted that Hartford was where many national programs were first fashioned. “We need to remind the federal government of what [cities] do,” he said.