If its participants weren't so well-dressed, it might be hard to tell the 56th annual U.S. Conference of Mayors now meeting in Salt Lake City from a convention of panhandlers.

That's because seldom have so many tin cups, figuratively speaking, been rattled in such great unison as they have been during the sessions of some 170 mayors from 40 states.At just the first general session of the five-day conference, the mayors adopted 52 resolutions. Though the resolutions covered a wide range of important subjects from drug abuse and poverty to day care and rebuilding decaying streets and public facilities, a common thread ran through many of those policy positions.

That thread: a persistent plea for more federal help, particularly more federal money.

That plea makes sense in some cases, particularly those like the war on drugs where the problem transcends not only city boundaries but state lines as well.

Even so, are we really to believe that federal funds are automatically the cure for whatever ails so many cities? Or that the cities collectively are worse off financially than the deficit-ridden federal government? Or that it doesn't matter that whenever the mayors ask for more money from Washington, they also are asking for more control from Washington? Or are we to believe that such principles as states' rights and local autonomy don't matter any more?

Occasionally, one still hears of cities - usually smaller towns - that not only don't seek but even reject various offers of federal aid, preferring to solve their own problems their own way and with their own resources.

What a shame that the voice of local independence has such a hard time being heard above the rattling of tin cups at the current U.S. Conference of Mayors.