Why Local Government Is More Innovative, But Also Gets More Blame

Syracuse, New York

Syracuse, New York

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

Philanthropies and the private sector are assuming more risk associated with infrastructure projects in lieu of much-needed federal funding.

WASHINGTON — Trust in local government exceeds trust in state and federal government, in part, because city and county officials are closer to their constituents, but that often leaves them held unfairly responsible for underfunded federal programs.

Speaking at The Volcker Alliance’s Rethinking Effective Government symposium in the District of Columbia on Thursday, Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner recounted being the only one talking to the public about the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s failures on the ground.

“The federal government has walked away from urban policy, the state governments have walked away from urban policy—leaving local government very good at ad hoc solutions,” Miner said. “But then what happens is nobody is holding federal and state governments accountable for the fact that they’ve walked away from these responsibilities.”

Anthony Foxx—the former mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, who served as U.S. Transportation Secretary in the Obama administration—lamented not being able to give local government more tools.

The U.S. Department of Transportation puts out about $72 billion annually, he said, but around $45 billion of that money goes to states based on rules they’ve set.

“I think we’ve hampered local government and made it very difficult for local government to do what I think local government can do at this time, which is to show us a way to pull the urban core, the suburban areas and rural areas around those cores together,” Foxx said.

Because mayors are responsible for results, they’re forced to “deliver all the time” and more willing to innovate than the federal government, said Judith Rodin, former president of The Rockefeller Foundation.

Philanthropies like Rockefeller can assist in that regard, assuming the most risk on local infrastructure projects, followed by the private sector and then government.

Rockefeller’s 100 Resilient Cities created a platform for private sector companies to provide goods and services they negotiate with localities, Rodin said, “that the federal government can now build on with their capital.”

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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