By Russ Corey
By Robert Palmer
One clear message came from last week’s meeting of the National League of Cities in Washington, D.C.: Expect less money at the local level from the federal government.
A group of Shoals elected officials spent part of last week attending the National League of Cities meeting, while others paid calls on members of Congress.
“The big word in Washington now is sequestration,” Florence Mayor Mickey Haddock said, referring to the across the board federal budget cuts that went into effect this month.
“They are saying there will be major cuts in lots of things,” he said. “Congressman (Mo) Brooks said 14,000 jobs could be lost in the Huntsville market. Sen. (Richard) Shelby’s staff said it would have a minimal effect in the Shoals, but a deeper effect statewide.”
The gridlock in Congress might be attributed, in part, to elected officials no longer socializing with each other as they once did, Haddock said.
“They are talking about not being able to work across the aisle with each other. That was a major topic,” he said. “It seems that, 20 years ago, they would battle it out on the floor and then go to dinner together. They knew each other and respected each other. Now, they don’t visit with each other, and they have wounds that won’t heal. And they are spending more time in their home states.”
Haddock visited with members of Congress and their staffs as a Northwest Alabama Council of Local Governments’ board of directors representative.
Florence Councilmen Hermon Graham, Blake Edwards and Dave Smith also attended League meetings. Edwards and Smith are new to the council and said they gained good experience at the meetings.
“Anytime you go to these meetings, you build relationships with people,” Edwards said. “I got to know the people from Muscle Shoals at lot better, which is good.”
“It was a valuable trip for me,” Smith said. “I met a lot of different mayors and council members from towns as small as 2,000 people to 500,000 people. We talked about the way we do business (in Florence), how we handle our work sessions.”
Haddock said relationship-building is one of the most important reasons for making trips to Washington.
“It’s so important to establish that with those who have the potential to help you in the future, either through grants or appropriations,” he said.
Keith Jones, executive director of the Northwest Alabama Council of Local Governments, said several mayors and others, such as Northwest-Shoals Community College President Humphrey Lee, made their annual visit to Washington, D.C.
Jones said the trips are important because they give local officials the chance to meet the Washington staff members of the state’s senators and representatives.
Jones said the group learned what many already know, that there is a lot of uncertainty in Washington and cuts can be expected to many of the programs that provide grant money to the region.
“Hopefully the Republicans and Democrats can come together to deal with the debt crisis,” Jones said.
Automatic cuts brought on by sequestration will reduce the amount of money available through organizations like the Appalachian Regional Commission.
“A lot of the agencies are trying to determine which programs they’re going to cut,” Jones said.
Less money means grants will be more difficult to secure. Jones said projects will have to be stronger and communities will have to provide more money to match those grants.
“Money is going to be tight for the next few years,” Jones said.
Russ Corey can be reached at 256-740-5738 or russ.corey@TimesDaily.com.
Robert Palmer can be reached at 740-5720 or robert.palmer@TimesDaily.com.