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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

L.A. May Take Hit in Election Fallout

The nation’s biggest cities, which voted overwhelmingly for John Kerry, are among the biggest losers in last week’s elections and Los Angeles will likely face an uphill slog in getting its share of federal dollars.

When it comes to federal dollars, California already is at the short end of the stick, receiving just 77 cents back for every dollar sent to Washington in 2002. That ratio is not likely to improve; indeed it could worsen if, as many expect, funding for social programs and urban infrastructure gets cut.

And the huge federal deficit $450 billion for the current fiscal year and a projected $600 billion for the 2005-06 fiscal year that starts next Oct. 1 is likely to further crimp the federal government’s ability to help California and Los Angeles.

When it comes to apportioning the cuts, highly Democratic L.A. may take some of the hardest hits. In Los Angeles County, voters turned out in heavy numbers to favor Kerry 63 percent to 36 percent over George Bush.

“I’m not expecting outright retaliation for the California vote, but I don’t think we’re going to see a lot of helping hands either. We’re going to continue to be on our own, maybe even more so now, when it comes to dealing with our major urban problems,” said Glenn Melnick, a health care economist at Rand Corp. and professor of health finance at the University of Southern California.

The state leaned heavily Democratic everywhere from the presidential election, where Kerry outpolled Bush by 11 percentage points statewide but lost by 3 points nationally, to the Senate race, where incumbent Barbara Boxer beat Republican challenger Bill Jones by 20 points.

Democrats retained their overwhelming edge in California’s huge congressional delegation with 34 out of 53 seats, bucking the national trend.

Some local officials are keeping a stiff upper lip about what’s in store.

“There is less of an incentive for any administration to help a state that has gone against them, but it doesn’t mean you can’t work to solve problems,” said L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. “Cultural wars or no cultural wars, what happens here soon impacts the rest of the country.”

But none of the public policy issues that affect L.A. the most including health care burdens, a housing shortfall and an aging infrastructure were high on President Bush’s priority list during his first term. Nor do they resonate among the many red states in the south, Midwest and mountain west that carried the president to a second term.

It’s a striking contrast to 1995, when the county’s public health system was near total meltdown and President Bill Clinton jetted in with the promise of more than $1 billion in federal funds to bail out the county. In 2001, when that bailout expired, the new Bush administration committed another $700 million over five years, but said there would be no further bailouts when that expires in 2006.

Indeed, many urban areas including Los Angeles have already been grappling with funding cuts, especially for social programs.

The administration sharply reduced funding for Section 8 subsidized rental housing vouchers, then attempted last year to eliminate the program entirely. (Both houses of Congress have drafted legislation to restore the funding to current levels.)

“After this election, it’s going to be very, very hard to address these problems the way most cities would rather do it, by relying on funding from Washington,” said Otis White, president of Civic Strategies Inc., an Atlanta-based public policy consulting firm. “For those with a traditional urban agenda, it will appear to be a nuclear winter.”

Getting face time

California’s best hope in getting President Bush’s attention for the region’s needs lies with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has maintained a mutually beneficial relationship with the White House and made what some political analysts say was a crucial trip to Ohio to campaign for Bush. Still, his efforts in the past year to wrest more money out of Washington have yielded only modest results and there’s little sign that a second Bush term will be any different.

“Certainly, the immediate Los Angeles core is almost exclusively Democrat-controlled and those members will not have as warm a response from the Bush administration to their requests as they would have from a Democrat administration,” said Tim Ransdell, executive director of the California Institute for Federal Policy Research in Washington.

Beyond that, urban advocates are turning to Congress to preserve funding for what they see as crucial programs.

“Fortunately for California and other blue states, the president doesn’t make laws, Congress does,” said Marilyn Mohrman Gillis, director of policy and federal relations for the National League of Cities. “California has powerful members of the House on key committees and has key players in the Senate as well.”

The state’s committee chairs have not dealt with many of the urban issues confronting Los Angeles, but they have on occasion brought some major projects to the region.

Rep. David Dreier, R-Glendora, who chairs the House Rules Committee, played a crucial role in funding the Eastside light rail line under construction in Boyle Heights. Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Bakersfield, chairman of the Ways & Means Committee, has worked with neighboring Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, on significant defense contracts, including the Joint Strike Fighter project awarded to Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp.

Most recently, Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Stockton, who chairs the House Resources Committee, teamed up with Sen. Dianne Feinstein to pass a $400 million package to upgrade and restore the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento River Delta region that is a crucial transfer point for much of Southern California’s water supply.

Given the increased Republican majorities, however, lobbyists admitted that they would have to work harder now just to keep from losing more ground, especially in the Senate.

Jim Seeley, federal lobbyist for the city of Los Angeles, said that three years ago, shortly after Bush took office, the city hired two outside lobbying firms with Republican contacts, including the Washington powerhouse law firm of Patton Boggs LLP.

“We realized we needed to boost our access wherever possible and hiring firms with contacts in the Bush administration and with key Republicans on the Hill fit in with that strategy,” he said.

Other urban lobbyists say they plan to change their strategy too. “They key for us now is to tie the urban problems to their impacts on economic growth,” said Charlie Ryan, president of the National League of Cities. “If we can convince folks in Washington that funding infrastructure upgrades at the nation’s largest ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach will make us more competitive globally, then we have a chance.”

But Ryan and others say the main concern is not a partisan dismissal of California or urban concerns. Rather, it’s the federal deficit.

“We’re really going to be challenged by the limited resources,” said Reggie Todd, chief Washington lobbyist for Los Angeles County. “Frankly, even if Senator Kerry had won the election, the deficit would probably still be our chief concern. People are realizing the pie may get a whole lot smaller.”

Howard Fine
Howard Fine
Howard Fine is a 23-year veteran of the Los Angeles Business Journal. He covers stories pertaining to healthcare, biomedicine, energy, engineering, construction, and infrastructure. He has won several awards, including Best Body of Work for a single reporter from the Alliance of Area Business Publishers and Distinguished Journalist of the Year from the Society of Professional Journalists.

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