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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Promises Money to Mayors

President Vladimir Putin promised mayors Tuesday that they would receive more financing and asked them to get out the vote in State Duma elections.

Putin leads the United Russia ticket in the elections, and his promise to a conference of mayors is certain to resonate with voters frustrated by the shortcomings of local government.

Mayors have complained that they lack the money to provide basic services to citizens. Municipal governments are responsible for services like repairing roads and providing heat and electricity, but they lack the power to collect taxes, relying instead on transfers from the regional and federal budgets.

Tuesday's gathering of mayors was intended to address such issues, as well as concerns over a controversial 2003 law that was designed to redistribute power between regional and local governments but has yet to be fully implemented. "It's no secret that many municipal bodies do not have enough of their own funding," Putin told the conference of more than 1,000 representatives of various municipalities, including many mayors, at Moscow's House of Unions.

Putin said he had ordered the federal government to transfer part of its oil-fueled budget surplus to a special communal services fund. He also noted that the total amount of budgetary transfers to local governments had increased by 60 percent over the past year.

The law on local self-government should be amended by the Duma this fall, Putin added, without elaborating.

"If you have any concerns about whether this law is working, and I'm sure you do ... then you should clearly and directly state the problems," he said.

The president instructed mayors to address their complaints to new Regional Development Minister Dmitry Kozak, a former Kremlin aide who drafted the law in 2003, and to First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who heads the national project on housing. Both Kozak and Medvedev were present at the meeting.

Putin's initiative may help municipalities improve their finances, said Denis Vizgalov, an expert on local government at the Institute for Urban Economics.

"The law on local self-government left very few possibilities for municipalities to develop, and it gave too much power to regional authorities to distribute budgetary funds," Vizgalov said. "Putin probably finally noticed this and understood that something needs to change."

Local governments have few ways of drawing in revenue, said Alexei Sidorenko, an analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center. "Only crumbs from tax revenues remain at the level of municipalities," he said. "Everything else goes to the regional and federal governments."

Putin stressed that mayors should ensure voter turnout in the Duma elections, in which United Russia -- the country's dominant pro-Kremlin party -- is expected to capture an overwhelming majority. "Local leaders must play an active role in this," he said. "They understand the specific problems of their voters, and, being leaders in their localities, they can convey to each citizen the importance of expressing his will."

Putin did not mention United Russia by name, and he did not link the added funding for municipalities to voter turnout.

Putin on Tuesday also offered little sign that a nationwide anti-corruption campaign that has snared dozens of mayors in the last year would let up. Analysts see the campaign as a way to instill greater loyalty to the Kremlin.

"The monopolization of local markets, the red tape and extortion by local officials for each document and signature, have become an insurmountable barrier for the development of business," Putin said.

The Kremlin is unlikely to ease pressure on mayors because they are a popular target, said Alexei Titkov, an analyst with the Institute of Regional Politics. "It is always easy to find mayors who are corrupt and can be used as targets in order to scare the others," Titkov said.

In terms of funding, the Kremlin will continue to favor governors over mayors because governors are needed to deliver votes in the Duma elections, scheduled for Dec. 2, Titkov said.

"Distributing regional budgets among municipalities is a strong tool in the arms of the governors, and I don't expect that the Kremlin will take it away from them, especially on the eve of the elections," Titkov said. "It is governors -- not mayors or heads of local administrations -- who are expected to deliver the votes the Kremlin wants."

Staff Writer Nabi Abdullaev contributed to this report.