CDBG in the Crosshairs

City Journal‘s Steven Malanga pulls no punches in his scathing critique of the federal Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) program, the venerable multi-billion dollar urban slush fund:

In its new budget, the Bush administration is proposing to eliminate one of the last and least effective vestiges of the War on Poverty: aid to cities doled out in the form of community-development block grants. The president has proposed slashing funding for this $5 billion-a-year boondoggle, which allows local officials virtually a free hand in spending federal money in their cities. Bush would fold what remains of the block-grant program into other, more tightly focused and controlled grant schemes. The end cannot come soon enough. Over the last 30 years, the block-grant program has expended some $100 billion in thousands of communities, with little to show for the effort. Local officials squandered the billions by financing unworkable projects that often went bust, investing in new businesses that couldn’t survive in depressed neighborhoods, and funding social programs with little idea of how they might actually strengthen their communities. A paradigmatic example of government ineffectiveness, this tempting pot of money gradually evolved into nothing more than a funder of local patronage and congressional pork spending. By killing the program, the Bush administration will do more than just save billions of taxpayer dollars. It will send a message that cities must cast off the 1960s dependency mentality that viewed federally subsidized programs as the only road to inner-city community revival and economic developmentââ?¬â??a notion that years of failed efforts should now put to rest.

Read the whole thing. UPDATE: Not surprisingly, the beneficiaries of CDBG largess won’t let it go down without a fight.