Connecting state and local government leaders
“States don't always see things from that critically important local perspective,” the former mayor told county officials.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg emphasized on Friday that it will be a priority for his department to work directly with local governments, rather than relying more heavily on states to represent the interests of cities, counties and other localities.
Buttigieg, previously the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said that since he took his cabinet-level job in the Biden administration, he’s noticed that people in Washington, D.C. have a tendency to lump “state and local” governments together as if their concerns overlap entirely.
“State and local, they say, almost as if it's the same thing,” he said. “Any of us who have worked in local government know it doesn't quite work that way. Local leaders partner with the states that they're in. But states don't always see things from that critically important local perspective.”
Buttigieg, speaking during an online National Association of Counties event, went on to stress how he wants to make sure that counties and other local governments don’t always have to go through multiple layers of government to get the Transportation Department’s attention.
“There are some things that flow through the states,” he added. “But we also want to make sure there's a direct relationship.”
City and county officials have long argued that the federal government should send more transportation funding directly to local projects, rather than channeling it first through states.
Earlier this year, members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors pressed Buttigieg on this issue and where Biden stood on it. Buttigieg indicated that he was generally sympathetic to the mayors’ concerns and described the president as "a believer in the power of the local.”
The secretary’s latest remarks come as the White House tees up a major infrastructure proposal that Biden is expected to provide more details on during a visit to Pittsburgh next week.
To what extent the Biden administration will move to provide more direct funds to localities is unclear, but the recently approved coronavirus relief proposal that the White House backed did funnel about $130 billion of a $362 billion pot of state and local recovery funds to the local level.
On Friday, Buttigieg told the county officials that he wants to take an “all of the above” approach working with states, localities, territories and tribes.
But he added: “You’ll never catch me assuming that if we're interacting with states, then the concerns of counties or communities are taken care of.”
Bill Lucia is a senior reporter for Route Fifty and is based in Olympia, Washington.