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US Inrastructure - U.S. mayors desperate to fix crumbling infrastructure but states, feds hold them back

 The drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan illustrates two urgent and related challenges that are stressing many American cities. First, critical infrastructure systems such as roads, bridges and water networks are aging and underfunded. Second, cities are not getting the support they need from higher levels of government to fix these problems.

We are the authors of the 2015 Menino Survey of Mayors, conducted by the Boston University Initiative on Cities. In this survey we asked a nationally representative sample of mayors an open-ended question: which challenge, that they believe should be a primarily “state and/or federal issue,” most affects their cities. Almost half of the mayors homed in on crumbling infrastructure. Many said that higher levels of government were not providing their cities with enough money for infrastructure projects they believe their cities need.

These projects range from relatively mundane needs like repairing roads to more ambitious projects, such as building new mass transit, wastewater and stormwater systems. Addressing the 2015 U.S. Conference of Mayors last June, President Obama observed, “There’s not a mayor here who can’t reel off 10 infrastructure projects right now that you’d love to get funding for, and that would put people to work right away and improve your competitiveness, and help businesses move their products and help people get to their jobs.” Indeed, the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that America will need US$3.6 trillion in infrastructure investments by 2020.

These concerns spotlight what mayors see as a bigger problem. In their view, federalism – the division (and sharing) of powers between different levels of government – is not working. In the survey, mayors consistently identified ways in which general government dysfunction, burdensome regulations and laws that preempt local autonomy cause problems for cities. As political scientist Jessica Trounstine has pointed out, Flint is an extreme example of some of these issues. State governments can hamper city governments in a variety of ways, most frequently by cutting funding and/or introducing legislation that reduces local autonomy.

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