A handful of South Carolina mayors were in Washington last week lobbying Congress and the president to keep local projects in mind when they create next year’s budget.
The US Conference of Mayors was predominantly led by mayors from larger cities, but smaller city mayors such as Sumter’s Joseph McElveen also made the trip.
McElveen said one of the top priorities of mayors on a national level is to urge Congress to fully fund Community Development Block Grants, which are used to revitalize poorer parts of cities.
CDBGs differ from typical federal grants because they allow local governments to spend the money on a range of different programs, rather than for a specific purpose. They are often spent on affordable housing, urban redevelopment, and anti-poverty programs.
McElveen says Sumter has benefitted from the grants.
Thsoe have been very valuable in Sumter in being able to bring improvements into areas of our communities that have been neglected… It’s been reduced considerably over the last several years.
McElveen said, while he was in Washington, he also met with South Carolina congressmen Jim Clyburn and Mick Mulvaney, and staff from Senators Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham. He said he hopes lawmakers will not keep a ban on earmarks permanent. McElveen said smaller cities like Sumter may not get federal aid without it.
There are earmarks, and then there are earmarks. There are some very worthwhile projects that have been done, that might not have gotten done in a competitive grant system. Smaller cities like Sumter are at a distinct disadvantage in competing with larger cities.
McElveen said he also urged lawmakers to find a permanent formula to fund state transportation projects, rather than simply reauthorizing a 2005 law every year.
When they keep reauthorizing it one year at a time… you don’t have any idea what you’re going to get. We were stressing the importance of doing it now. Everybody knows how important it is to have good roads and bridges.
The conference was capped by a meeting with President Barack Obama, who spoke to the mayors Friday.
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley and Columbia mayor Steve Benjamin also attended, as did Myrtle Beach mayor John Rhodes. The mayors of North Myrtle Beach, Surfside Beach, and West Columbia also made the trip.