What Cities Need From Washington - OZY | A Modern Media Company

What Cities Need From Washington

What Cities Need From Washington

By Beth Van Duyne


Because the vast majority of Americans live in cities. 

By Beth Van Duyne

The author is the mayor of Irving, Texas. 

Whether you agree with him or not, it’s undeniable that our new president is rapidly instituting reforms and changing the way the federal government operates. By the end of his first two weeks in the Oval Office, President Trump had signed executive orders addressing health-care reform, immigration and practically everything in between.

Mainstream media used words like chaotic, confusion and unconstitutional to describe some of these actions. President Trump’s response was more or less what we saw during his campaign — “I meant what I said, get used to it.” (Have we become so accustomed to politicians not fulfilling their campaign promises that when one actually does, we are left dazed and confused?)

Big-city mayors across the country jumped into the fray promising to be a “block of island nations” opposing many of Trump’s policies. But I’m hopeful that our nation’s mayors will choose to engage with the administration in order to actually help the citizens of our nation, rather than entrenching themselves in order to shield those who have broken our laws. After all, tens of millions of Americans have just voted for that.

Besides, there’s a lot of work to do to unite our nation and get us back on track. With 80 percent of the population living in the 100 largest metropolitan areas, working directly with cities is a great place to start. White House policies can have immediate impact in cities. And as a mayor, I’m hopeful President Trump can help create solutions for our major urban areas. 

What does helping our citizens look like? It’s simpler than it might sound, and it starts with eliminating bureaucratic waste. There will always be more projects than money to pay for them, but by eliminating the red tape that encumbers federal programs and spending, we can help stretch precious taxpayer dollars and have a greater impact for our cities and those living in urban blight. Complying with baroque regulations and excessive oversight costs time, money and human capital that cities just don’t have. All of it hampers federal assistance to our cities. Consider the following examples:

  • The Environmental Protection Agency is crippling the very cities that are experiencing population growth and desperate to build new water sources to ensure a clean water supply for the future. EPA regulations and controls have made the construction of new reservoirs cost- and time-prohibitive. Instead of taking five years to locate, design and construct a new reservoir, in many cases, EPA regulations push it out 30 years and beyond.
  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development grants billions of dollars a year to cities for development and refurbishing of affordable homes. But the requirements to receive such grants are so burdensome they often end up costing cities. For example, Irving was required to create an entire department with almost a dozen staff just to qualify for a program. Once the grant dollars have been spent, cities are still left with entire departments to either fund on their own or eliminate.
  • Community Development Block Grants were created to aid cities in infrastructure development, affordable housing and antipoverty programs. However, because of the immense government oversight and numerous prerequisites, these programs are ineffective and inefficient. For example, a local charter school was considering applying for $2 million in CDBG funds to build a gymnasium with an estimated cost of $2 million. After redesigning the gym with requirements to satisfy federal grant regulations, the cost skyrocketed to $4.5 million.
  • The Department of Transportation has the ability and funds to work with communities across the nation to build roads, bridges and transportation hubs to support economic development and growth. However, in practice, the number of regulations, studies and micromanaging policies waste billions of dollars, years of time and tons of resources that could be spent on other much-needed projects.

Instead of continuing a political campaign that plays to the worst of people’s fears, I advocate working with President Trump on issues that will directly benefit and fundamentally improve the lives of hardworking people in our communities. The new administration has to eliminate the red tape that’s choking cities and replace an ineffective top-down approach with something sensible. The solution is to work directly with city leaders to get rid of the bottlenecks and inefficiencies and create workable policies.

Will there be bumps in the road? Without a doubt. But that has been true for any new president. It’s time people accept that the election is over and focus on the real work we have in front of us. That is why I am ignoring the bellicose press conferences, political posturing and feigned injustices in order to work with the new administration on things that matter to the people of Irving: building safe, clean communities where families can thrive, children can learn and economic growth can drive new opportunities for our citizens. Just imagine how much we could get done for the “forgotten folks” if every city took that approach.

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