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Government

Arlington Mayor To Congress: Cities Need Your Help

arlington_mayor_jeff_williams.jpg
Christopher Connelly
/
KERA News
Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams announcing a supplier park to support the city's massive GM factory in 2017. Today, he says the pandemic's impact on that factory and every other segment of Arlington's economy is sapping tax city revenues.

Lawmakers in Congress are debating another coronavirus aid package, and Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams hopes that cities like his won’t be left out again. 

That’s what happened when Congress passed $2 trillion worth of aid in the CARES Act. It only included direct funding for 34 of the nation’s largest cities, the ones with half a million people or more. Smaller cities had to rely on states and counties to share federal funds.

Arlington, with a population near 400,000, did get money that Congress sent to Tarrant County and the state. But, Williams said, cities like his are struggling. 

“We received $21 million, and that is only covering our medical and PPE needs and so-forth there,” he said. “Nothing to rebuild our city.”

Williams is one of the nation’s mayors tapped by the bipartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors to push Congress to include unrestricted, direct federal aid for cities as it crafts its fifth round of coronavirus relief.

Federal aid to local governments in the CARES Act could only be used to pay for direct coronavirus response, but Williams said cities aren’t just spending more to fight the pandemic, they’re facing massive shortfalls because of it as well.

Every industry that drives his city is suffering, Williams said, and that’s hurting the revenue Arlington relies on to provide essential services like police and firefighters: Sports stadiums won’t be welcoming fans anytime soon and crowded amusement parks may seem risky, so hotel taxes won’t be filling city coffers like usual. 

Retail sales and the taxes associated with them are anemic. 

There are still questions about whether UT Arlington’s tens of thousands of students will be bringing their spending power back to campus this fall. 

GM’s Arlington factory — the carmaker’s largest — has seen production impacted by the pandemic, along with the rest of the city’s typically vibrant manufacturing sector. 

And, with foreclosures on the rise, property values —and with them, property tax revenues —will likely decline, sapping property tax revenues.

Arlington’s already about $20 million short of expected tax revenues for the year, Williams said. The city enacted a hiring freeze in March and is considering furloughs and other measures to meet that shortfall. 

With work beginning on the budget for the next fiscal year, which starts in October, Williams said city leaders are trying to figure out how deeply they’ll need to cut into essential city services in next year’s budget. That’ll partly depend on Congress. 

“Cities have been a great economic engine,” Williams said, “and we need to be restored.”

Democrats in the House included funding for cities in their latest proposal. In the Senate, though, Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has shown no interest in sending cities money.

Williams, a Republican, hopes his fellow party members will think of this like a major tornado, flood or hurricane that destroys a city. In those situations, the federal government helps cities with the recovery. The coronavirus, he said, is another natural disaster, but with one key difference.

“A hurricane hits and is gone after a few days,” Williams said. “Well, the virus is still here and it’s very uncertain how long it’s going to last.”