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Upbeat mood beneath mayors' budget criticisms

The nation's big cities face sharply higher mass transit and commuter fares, a loss of public service jobs, and deep cuts in economic development aid if President Reagan's budget plan is enacted, urban experts say.

But some vital urban programs -- including summer youth employment and welfare payments -- are not feeling the new administration's budget ax, and this is helping to cushion the blow, say big-city officials.

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"We know it [the budget plan] is going to hurt," says Fred Jordan, chief spokesman for the National League of Cities. "But everybody I've talked to in the past two months says federal spending needs to be cut. And we understand that we have to be cut, too."

This does not mean, however, that city officials will stand by and let Congress rubber stamp the Reagan proposals for cities. Already, Mayors Edward I. Koch of New York and Thomas Bradley of Los Angeles have lashed out at many of the reductions in urban aid. They promise to step up lobbying efforts to save funding they deem essential to their cities, such as for mass transit.

Conversations with top aides to several mayors make it clear that many cities had anticipated deeper cuts and that their fiery rhetoric in part masks deep feelings that Reagan's economic plan deserves a chance.

"The Democrats have had their chance and blown it, so now let's give the Republicans one" is the way one key Koch aide privately describe some of the more sympathetic sentiment behind the outward show of alarm.

Buoying this sort of deep-seated optimism is the fact that New York -- which recently has enjoyed staggering increases in tax revenues, related in large measure to growth in the service industry -- may be able to fund parts of the programs being cut, such as public service jobs.

The President has proposed trimming $3.5 billion allotted by the Carter administration for the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA). This would eliminate 300,000 jobs nationwide and 13,000 jobs in the city.

Mayor Koch expressed public anger about the President's CETA cut proposal. At a press conference Feb. 19 he said: "The proposal to eliminate CETA is unconscionable -- especially in these times of high unemployment."

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But he praised Reagan's pledge to provide cities with relief from federal mandates. Congress has imposed mandates on cities, such as sludge removal or special education, which the cities then must fund themselves.

The Reagan call for the elimination of mass transit operating subsidies, if approved by Congress, could push bus and subway fares to record-high levels, both Mayor Koch and Mayor Bradley warned.

Bradley also was particularly concerned about proposed federal reductions in capital projects. Los Angeles has been trying to moderize its sewer system and the proposed federal cuts would be a setback for this.

Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne had no immediate comment on the Reagan program, saying she needed time to study it. But one top Byrne aide said "it could have been worse," indicating the overall program may have mer it.

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