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Federal Cuts May Cost City Dearly Mayor, City Manager Say Spokane Has No Plan To Replace $7 Million

Cut the country’s bloated federal bureaucracy, and the savings should flow to the cities. That is the theory, at least, behind scores of proposed congressional budget cuts.

But the theory runs dry in Spokane.

Rather than saving money, the cuts could cost Spokane $7 million in federal money - for schools, housing projects, community centers, public buses, job training services and more.

And the city has no means to replenish that.

“It would be a direct hit, a direct hurt,” said City Manager Roger Crum. “And we don’t have any plan to replace it.”

The Spokesman-Review calculated the cuts affecting Spokane from data extracted by local officials and from the House-passed appropriation bills.

Eliminated would be the summer youth program, which last year supplied Spokane with nearly $1 million and provided jobs for 369 teenagers.

Also abolished would be $2.3 million in winter home-heating help, which was divided among 8,800 low-income Spokane homes.

The shrinking figures aren’t final. They’re based only on the House bills, without the upcoming input of the Senate or the signature of the president.

Still, say Spokane officials, they signify an ominous trend.

“The theory is, well, we’ll cut at the federal level and that will free up money at the local level to make up the difference,” said Spokane Mayor Jack Geraghty. “But I haven’t seen how that is going to occur.”

The city is facing its own budget crunch, Geraghty said. Raising taxes isn’t an option because the city already is nearing a state-imposed tax cap.

Given that, there likely would be no way to compensate for federal housing or transportation money chopped nearly in half by the House, nor for any of the proposed cuts.

“Our needs are increasing, but the resources to serve the needs are going in the other direction,” said Larry Lengyel, director of the citycounty employment and training consortium, which oversees youth and adult work programs.

But congressional budget-cutters point to the other side of the story - a reduced federal deficit and a hopeful slowing in the growing $4.9 trillion debt.

Many Republican freshmen, including Rep. George Nethercutt of Spokane, who supported the cuts, view their budget-cutting votes as an election-day mandate.

“This Congress was sent to Washington, D.C., to rein in federal spending and balance the federal budget,” said a Nethercutt spokesman, Ken Lisaius. “It’s not a money-grab anymore, where members are trying to grab as much as they can to bring home.”

Under the House budget plan, Spokane’s grants for public housing construction would fall from $1.5 million to about $780,000, city officials estimate. That would mean building about eight or nine new apartments, instead of 17.

The city also would face cuts in Community Development Block Grants, which last year supplied $4.7 million.

About $1.1 million of that would be cut from single-family home renovations, affecting as many as 113 low-income families, said Spokane Community Development Director Mike Adolfae. Another $200,000 would be cut from community centers and services.

Spokane public schools could see cuts in nearly all federal grants, including money for disadvantaged children, Indian education, vocational schools and students with physical disabilities, according to a staff report prepared for the school board.

Federal money for the Safe and Drug Free Schools program would be cut by more than half. The $4 million subsidy for Head Start preschool programs would be reduced by $200,000, said Head Start Director Patt Earley.

“That’s not just papers and crayons and colors, it’s people,” Earley said.

The loss of mass transit money - although a cut of nearly 50 percent - wouldn’t have a noticeable effect on the Spokane Transit Authority’s 143 buses or $29.5 million budget, said Christine Fueston, the transit’s grant manager.

But spinoff from the combined cuts could go well beyond their immediate programs, warned Spokane Budget Director Ken Stone.

“There is clearly an economic impact,” Stone said. “If you get less money, that affects a number of jobs. And if you have more people who slip below that line of not making it, you’re ironically going to have more people fall back on public assistance.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 graphics: 1. What budget cuts may mean for Spokane (housing, jobs) 2. What budget cuts may mean for Spokane (transportation, community development, education)

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