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Becker joins fellow mayors to unveil cities' wish list

Published December 12, 2013 2:15 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Washington • Immigration reform. Transportation funding. Affordable housing.

Those are just a few of the items populating a wish list from Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and fellow mayors from across the country who put together their top 10 most imperative issues facing urban areas.

"This is not a wish list just of cities. This is a wish list of the people who live in America," Becker said while unveiling a National League of Cities report Thursday. "That's 80 percent of the population of America that's being represented through us."

After the Great Recession, cities are feeling the brunt of the teetering economy and are looking to state and federal leaders for help. Among the league's most pressing issues is the ability to raise new revenue through collection of an online sales tax, a boost in transportation grants and better opportunities for needy residents to attend college.

The mayors also say that partnerships with Washington and their state governments could also help reduce gang violence, enhance access to affordable housing, grow the middle class and help returning veterans find work.

They also urged the federal government and their own communities to address climate change, noting that the effects of more extreme weather are being felt in America's cities.

Melodee Colbert Kean, mayor of Joplin, Mo., knows that impact well after a tornado in 2011 ripped up half the city, killing 158 people and causing nearly $3 billion in damage.

"We know these issues can be solved but not overnight," she said Thursday, noting that strong federal, state and local partnerships are the best way to approach cities' needs.

"We need solutions," she added.

St. Paul, Minn., Mayor Chris Coleman, the president of the League of Cities, said the group wasn't asking for pie-in-the-sky things and many of them, like immigration reform, are bipartisan issues.

"We're asking for real practical partnerships and some things that don't require additional resources," he said.

Among the other issues the mayors are pressing for is a restoration of trust in government.

At a time when Congress' approval rating is in single digits, mayors suggest using social media and other efforts to stay engaged with residents and keep them involved in decision-making.

Becker, who also met this week at the White House for a task force on climate change, says that there's a growing call for the feds to help local governments even during austere budget times because the same folks who elect mayors, elect members of Congress.

"The issues that emerge out of cities are the issues that Americans are facing across the board in our communities," Becker said. "We have the same constituents as our federal partners in Congress."

tburr@sltrib.com ß