Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Federal Government Shutdown Shows Lack of Leadership, Mayor Says

By Christina Georgiou

Easton Mayor Sal Panto
File photo
Easton Mayor Sal Panto issued an open letter to residents today, encouraging citizens to contact their Congressmen to urge them to pass a "clean" continuing resolution that will fund the national government through 2014.

He wrote the letter in response to a call from the National League of Cities suggesting mayors and other elected officials reach out to residents and encourage them to make their voices heard to Congress, he said.

On a local level, the federal government shutdown has had little impact so far on day-to-day operations, but if the situation drags out, that will change, Panto said.

"We're okay for now, but if this continues, the whole country will be in trouble," he said when reached by phone late Wednesday afternoon.

But that doesn't mean the shutdown isn't being felt locally, he said, noting that the recent awarding of federal grant money to the Simon Silk Mill revitalization is now stalled and may delay completion of the project.

"Our grant's obviously being held up, and there's not even someone we can talk to," he said, adding that the suspension of pay for non-essential government employees is a local problem too. "We have people in the area that work for the federal government, like for Social Security, and they're not getting paid."

Other funds the City of Easton relies upon, such as Community Development Block Grant money, is stalled as well, he added.

Panto said he's gratified local Congressmen Charlie Dent (R-PA15) and Matt Cartwright (D-PA17) support the immediate passage of a clean continuing resolution, but more of their colleagues need to vote in favor of it too and end the shutdown.

The mayor added that he's frustrated by the situation, and feels Congress needs to put partisan issues aside in favor of the practical matter of keeping services people rely upon running--much like local governments must do.

"This is not a partisan issue," he said. "The don't even have to pass a balanced budget. I can't imagine what would happen if they had to do that."

Complete text of Mayor Sal Panto's open letter:

As the federal government’s partial shutdown enters day two, I wanted to let our residents know that I have joined mayor and local elected officials from around the country to call on Congress to pass a clean continuing resolution that will fund our federal government for the long term, at least through 2014. This "debate" is really a manufactured crisis that ignores the real problems facing our country. Congress is ignoring a host of issues important to Americans: declining housing market, immigration reform, lackluster economic growth, high unemployment, just to name a few. We know that health care is an important issue, but this isn't the time or place to debate it.

Besides shirking its responsibilities, Congress' failure to pass a budget has real economic consequences for families and businesses in our community and communities throughout our nation. The economic uncertainty this creates is quite frankly frustrating, and we urge Congress to move forward in finding a way out of this mess.

Their partial shutdown shows a lack of leadership in Washington and they are operating a government by manufacturing a crisis; it’s not how cities govern, that’s for sure. The federal government would do well to take a page, or at this point a chapter, from cities' books on how to lead and maintain a balanced budget. Throughout all this, cities are doing the necessary work to keep our country moving forward. Imagine if cities decided to not collect garbage, plow snow, or patrol our streets. What if there was an emergency and police and fire didn’t respond?

No matter how you feel about the health care law, we cannot have the budget process hijacked by this political theater, especially at a time when cities, like Easton, are starting to get back on their feet, after being knocked down by the Great Recess├Čon, not to mention sequestration and massive cuts to domestic programs. Families should not have to suffer because a select few Congressmen think they can gain politically from this manufactured crisis.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and unfortunately it appears it's going to take longer than that to get Congress to pass a budget and do what they were elected to do  govern this great country. To that end I am asking Congress to pass a clean continuing resolution that will fund the federal government through fiscal year 2014.

We are facing real challenges and Congress must pass a clean continuing resolution for fiscal year 2014 and end this manufactured crisis. The economic impacts of the shutdown are real, and our neighborhoods and families are unfortunately bearing the brunt. Every day the government is shut down is another day of economic uncertainty. Instead, we need to focus on what matters.

Local leaders face challenges every day and as another round of federal drama plays out, local elected officials will continue to focus on planning for cities and towns' futures, working together to generate new ideas that solve problems. We take action that will have a positive impact on the residents we serve. This is what the American people deserve from their government. Action. Nothing less.

However, many cities, like Easton, are in a fragile economic recovery period, one that could easily be stalled by the economic fallout from a federal shutdown. Depending on how long the shut down continues, cities are facing the possibility of having to spend down reserve funds, pare back programs, and reduce services even more than they already have over the last four years.

So, regardless of the inexcusable behavior of Washington politicians, cities will continue to lead, balancing budgets, listening to the concerns of their residents, and coming up with solutions to make the places that we live and work better for all citizens, regardless of political party.

It's going to take pressure from our residents to force Congress to act so I ask that you all call your Congressperson now and ask them to support a continuing resolution.

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