Franklin D. Roosevelt

Remarks to Mayors at the White House.

November 19, 1935

I am very glad to see you here. Many of you I have known personally for a great many years. With some of you, I have worked on many problems in the past.

I have not prepared any formal remarks for your gathering here. I wish, though, that I could have sat with you in your meetings to hear what has been said and to learn more about the problems of government.

In the past few years we have all learned, I think, a great deal about the problems of government. In the broad sense of the word we have tried experiments. Some of them have been very successful; and some of them, like all experiments, have not been quite so successful. Through this process, we are building up, as Mayor Hoan has said, a new relationship—a perfectly sound relationship—between the different branches of Government, municipal, State and national.

One of the newspaper men, a few moments ago in the Press Conference, asked the kind of question you are all asked and I am asked every week. Members of the press are present, I know, but I do not mind their hearing this. The particular question was this:

"Is the Government going to stop giving relief next July?"

That is the kind of thing—spreading the word around that everybody who is now on relief will be taken off relief rolls beginning the first of July—we have to combat.

My answer was that the Federal Government, and I am sure your answer will be the same for the city governments, does not propose to let people starve after the first of July any more than during the past few years.

We are learning also a greater efficiency. Certainly the new work this year, so far as lasting usefulness is concerned, has been infinitely more successful, better planned and better carried out than it was under the old C.W.A. program of 1933. Think what a gain it has been in two years. Go over the lists of projects, both W.P.A. and Public Works this year, and the percentage of them which will be of lasting benefit to the communities is very, very high. That is something I think the average citizen in all of your cities appreciates, in spite of various attacks which have been made on these projects.

Of course, in the last analysis, you people who run governments of the cities in this country—and in the country districts, the supervisors and county commissioners—are responsible for these projects. You people suggest them and, on the whole, your suggestions with respect to these projects have been extraordinarily good. I am delighted with the usefulness and permanence of them.

All of this has come about in the course of less than three years. All of us have learned a lot, but we still have much to learn. There are various processes of government that can be simplified and ought to be simplified.

For example, and this is not my fault because Congress put it in the bill, I have to sign all the allotments in person. I have signed hundreds, thousands, of allotment papers for various projects. They ought never to come to my desk, but we have to go through what is called "red tape," because of the law. When applications come in here from the various localities, they have to go through a certain process. They have to go, in part, to the Director of the Budget. Then they come to me and then they go to the Comptroller General of the United States. There has been a lot of talk about projects being held up for a long time by the Comptroller General but, after all, he is limited in the staff he has. The way he has done this work has been perfectly fine. His people are worn to the bone. They have been working day and night. Hence the projects have been coming through and I think some people are going to find in a few weeks that the program as a whole is going to be carried out before the end of November, just as planned last spring.

I would like to say another word on a subject—an important subject—that you and I have in mind. That subject is taxation. Taxes have grown up like Topsy in this country. There have been a great many efforts to simplify taxation—to establish lines of demarcation between the different types of taxation, giving certain types to localities, others to the States, and still others to the Federal Government.

We are stepping on each other's toes, especially in the past five, ten or fifteen years. In fact, virtually since the beginning of the World War the general tax situation in the United States has become more complicated and has called for revision. I think the time is coming—not this coming session of Congress because we hope that it will be a very short session—but by the following year, when all of us can get together and sit around a table and work out a better system of taxation, State, municipal and Federal.

Late this winter we are going to ask you to come down and talk about that subject around the table. I suppose this meeting will be dignified by the name of a Tax Conference; but I would rather keep it informal and have it become a continuing study which will bring forth an intelligent report before the close of the year 1936.

Mayor Hoan has said that this is a non-partisan gathering. We have to keep it so and, in the approaching conference, we will have to think of taxation in a non-partisan way.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Remarks to Mayors at the White House. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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