The Local Perspective

FOR state and local governments, the budget cutting now furiously under way in Congress could mean one of two things: Either cut programs to make up for the funds that would no longer be coming from Washington, or scramble for new funding sources in order to maintain services at current levels.

The first option would seem easier. After all, the federal government appears to be setting a ''just do it'' example for across-the-board chopping. But while lopping off funding is hard enough in Congress, it can be even harder locally, where officials not only are closer to the people affected, they may even know many of them personally.

And those affected include civic and neighborhood groups that push for everything from business development to low-cost housing. A lot of local government in the United States depends on a partnership of public agencies, nonprofits, and civic-minded business people.

They join forces to raise money for summer jobs, recreation opportunities, emergency food services, innovative law enforcement -- the gamut. The federal money they get may not be the bulk of their budgets, but in many cases it's crucial funds that can be leveraged into more dollars.

This isn't an argument for not cutting federal spending. Many of the local folk who will be affected by cuts appreciate the wisdom of trimming Washington's deficit. And they, too, may benefit from a crash course in more efficient government.

State and local governments, however, may have little choice but to pick up much of the load shifted downward by Congress. Many items being sliced are things that local officials can't ignore -- housing, transportation, and education. The prospect of higher taxes or fees to keep the services going is politically distasteful, but possibly unavoidable.

At the least, these officials would like to see federal legislators really go across the board with their blue pencils and not set aside things like Social Security, defense, and the mortgage-interest tax write-off -- truly huge factors in the federal budget. Then, at least, their part of the balanced budget burden would likely seem a little less disproportionate.

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