CHICAGO — The nation's mayors took time out Saturday from bashing Washington to fight among themselves over whether the Constitution should be amended to guarantee cities a set percentage of federal revenues.
The debate came as more than 200 mayors got down to business at their annual summer conference, taking committee action on dozens of proposed policy statements on issues ranging from taxes and transportation to housing and AIDS research.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors' human development committee endorsed a resolution calling on Congress to pass legislation mandating that a "fair" percentage of federal revenues be channeled directly to cities. If Congress refused to pass such a law, the resolution would put the mayors on record in favor of a constitutional amendment requiring the revenue sharing.
Philadelphia Mayor W. Wilson Goode led the support of the measure, saying the mayors needed to make a forceful statement to win attention for their concerns in Washington.
But a separate committee, the mayors' panel on urban economic policy, voted unanimously to oppose the provision calling for a constitutional amendment. The proposals endorsed Saturday need to clear another committee today in order to be presented to the full gathering this week.
"The Constitution should not be part of the budget process," Ft. Wayne, Ind., Mayor Paul Helmke said.
That dispute was the only diversion from a day spent largely following up Friday's attack on Congress and the Bush Administration for not sending more aid to cities. The mayors are virtually unanimous in saying that aid cutbacks in the 1980s exacerbated urban housing and education problems and left cities too poor to provide drug treatment and other services to the needy.
"Solutions hinge on the federal government making the urban areas and people a top priority," host Mayor Richard M. Daley of Chicago said at a morning news conference. "We basically need an Administration willing to have some courage and strong leadership."
But many of the proposals popular with the mayors are viewed with trepidation in Washington--among them the mayors' position that the federal government needs to raise taxes and give some of the money to cities.
Also high on the mayors' agenda but controversial in Washington are proposals to spend more of the billions in aviation and highway trust funds for airport and road improvements. The huge balances in those accounts hide the true size of the federal budget deficit, they have maintained.
The mayors rarely fight among themselves or criticize each other, but there were a few objections to the attacks on the Ronald Reagan and Bush administrations led by big-city Democratic mayors.
GOP Mayor Jimmy Kemp of Meridian, Miss., who was first elected as a Democrat but switched parties, complained that most of the resolutions being debated blamed urban problems on Republican presidents.
Before the Saturday meetings, dozens of the mayors joined Daley in the city's third annual "Say No to Drugs" parade.