Federal Advocacy Update: Week Ending February 10, 2017

Capitol Building
Capitol Building

In this issue:

NLC Leads 20 State Fly-in to Remind Washington that Cities Lead

Ashley Smith, 202.626.3094

This week, more than 35 executive directors and local leaders from 20 state municipal leagues across the country traveled to Washington, D.C. for an inaugural fly-in to advocate for city priorities on Capitol Hill and with the Trump Administration. At meetings and a briefing on Capitol Hill, state municipal league partners, local elected officials, and NLC lobbyists advocated for our top legislative priorities, including the tax exemption for municipal bonds, reinvestment in municipal infrastructure, and internet sales tax fairness. Together we ensured that federal decision-makers heard loud and clear that local leaders are ready and eager for Washington to focus on hometown priorities.
 

On Tuesday, NLC President Matt Zone joined NLC CEO and Executive Director Clarence E Anthony to welcome State Municipal League Executive Directors and Presidents to “City Hall on Capitol Hill” for a briefing by NLC’s Federal Advocacy team on the changing policy and political landscape in Washington. Billy Kirkland, the newly appointed Deputy Director for the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, also traveled to NLC headquarters to address fly-in attendees and discuss potential areas of future collaboration between the administration and cities.

State municipal league leaders fly-in to Washington, D.C. to advocate for city priorities.
State municipal league leaders fly-in to Washington, D.C. to advocate for city priorities.

On Wednesday, the city leaders and NLC lobbyists descended on Capitol Hill for 45 meetings and one congressional briefing on city priorities. In addition to direct meetings with Senators and Representatives, NLC President Zone lead teams to meet with the Staff Directors for two House Committees to discuss issues important to cities - brownfields reauthorization and unfunded mandates. An NLC team also met with staff at the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Wireless Bureau to urge FCC against a one-size-fits-all mandate to preempt local authority on small cell wireless facility siting.

For additional photos and highlights from NLC's State Municipal League Directors and Presidents Fly-In, follow NLC on Twitter and Facebook.

City Hall 101: Local Leaders School Congressional Staff on Hometown Priorities

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

As part of NLC's State Municipal League Directors and Presidents advocacy fly-in, NLC hosted a Congressional briefing, “City Hall 101: The Role of Cities in Moving America Forward,” to urge members of Congress and staff to consider the best ways to partner with cities to solve some of the most pressing challenges of our time. With a focus on the economy, infrastructure and public safety, NLC President Matt Zone, council member, Cleveland, opened the briefing by calling on Congress to support local efforts to combat public health crises like the opioid epidemic, to give city leaders a voice in how federal infrastructure dollars are invested, and to protect the tax exemption for municipal bonds that helps cities invest in infrastructure to grow their local and the national economy. 

“Cities are the builders of America’s infrastructure. We are the creators of economic opportunity for our residents. And we are leaders in finding creative solutions to the challenges facing our communities and our nation,” said Zone. 

Rep. Drew Ferguson (R-GA), a former mayor of West Point, Georgia, and a newly-elected Congressman, spoke about his perspective of coming to Washington, D.C. after serving at the local level and the need for stronger federal-local partnerships. Ferguson spoke eloquently about the role of economic development and education in helping families move out of poverty and into the middle class. He left with the reminder, “The health of the nation can be measured by the health of our cities.”

Christy McFarland, NLC Research Director, discussed two recent NLC reports, City Fiscal Conditions and Paying for Local Infrastructure in a New Era of Federalism, which served as background on the health of city budgets, including revenue and expenditures, and the fiscal capacity of cities to partner with federal government. “City finances are stable. Cities are in a positive trajectory to growth, but city finances are vulnerable to economic swings. And the authority of local governments to raise revenue is often constrained,” McFarland told Congressional staff. 


City Hall 101 Briefing

NLC President Zone was joined by Mayor C. Kim Bracey, York, Pa., and First Vice President of the Pennsylvania Municipal League, and Commissioner Gil Ziffer, Tallahassee, Fla., First Vice President of the Florida League of Cities and Chair of NLC’s Human Development Federal Advocacy Committee, to share experiences from their cities on some of the challenges they are facing at the local level. 

Mayor Bracey and Commissioner Ziffer discussed the impact of homelessness on their communities. In Tallahassee, the city utilized a public-private partnership to build a homeless shelter that provides other wrap around services including medical assistance, mental health services, and job retraining that has become a model for other cities in Florida. 

Although York is a city of 43,000 and only 5.2 square miles, Mayor Bracey shared the city experiences the same kind of societal issues, good and bad, that larger cities face. While crime is going down and homeownership is up, homelessness, particularly among children, is a big challenge for the city. Programs like the Community Development Block Grant help the city leverage other public and private sector dollars to address the issues. 

As the conversation turned to the topic of infrastructure, NLC President Zone told Congressional staff that cities need a diverse array of financing options in order to improve our nation’s transportation and water infrastructure. While private sector financing is critical for cities in terms of increasing investments, President Zone said public-private partnerships might work for large projects, but it will not work for the types of Main Street projects that are needed in smaller communities nationwide.

Missed the briefing? Click here to view the video on NLC's Facebook page.

State League Directors and City Leaders Talk Brownfields, Unfunded Mandates with Congressional Committees

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

During NLC’s State Municipal League Directors and Presidents Fly-In this week, local leaders met with staff directors of several House committees to discuss issues important to cities: brownfields reauthorization and unfunded mandates. 

The first meeting was with the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment. NLC President Matt Zone, council member, Cleveland, lead a delegation that included Mayor Harry Brown, Stephens, Ark., and President of the Arkansas Municipal League; Town Administrator Mel Kleckner, Brookline, Mass., and President of the Massachusetts Municipal League, along with Arkansas and Massachusetts state municipal league representatives. The group explained their need for Congress to reauthorize the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Brownfields program. The committee, which shares jurisdiction over brownfields with the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is currently drafting legislation and will likely hold a hearing later this spring. NLC members voiced their support for addressing the local liability concerns and improving the flexibility of the program in the reauthorization bill. 

The next meeting was with the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Intergovernmental Affairs Subcommittee. For this meeting, President Zone lead Mayor Brown; Ken Wasson, Director of Operations for the Arkansas Municipal League; and Sam Mamet, Executive Director of the Colorado Municipal League, to discuss how unfunded federal mandates burden local governments, particularly small towns with limited financial resources. They also discussed with committee staff ways to ensure that local voices are heard throughout the rulemaking process. Recently, NLC compiled feedback from local elected officials on unfunded mandates and regulatory reform proposals at the request of the committee. The committee will likely hold a hearing on these issues later this spring, and is seeking ongoing feedback from NLC and cities on how to reduce the burden on local governments.

Florida Local Leaders Travel to DC to Advocate for Federal Issues Impacting Cities

Ashley Smith, 202.626.3094

City officials from Florida traveled to Washington, D.C. this week to meet with members of Congress and advocate for key federal issues that affect municipalities.

Florida city leaders visit NLC for an advocacy strategy session before their Hill meetings.
Florida city leaders visit NLC for an advocacy strategy session before their Hill meetings.

 

The Florida League of Cities, led by FLC First Vice President Commissioner Gil Ziffer, Tallahassee and FAST Chair Mayor Joe Durso, Longwood, brought 28 members of the Federal Action Strike Team (FAST) and three staff members to meet with members of the Florida congressional delegation. The advocates first received a briefing from NLC's Federal Advocacy team, then traveled to Capitol Hill. During their meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday, FLC FAST members advocated for the tax exemption for municipal bonds, federal infrastructure funding, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), the FEMA Public Assistance Program, and e-fairness legislation. 

Is your city or state municipal league planning an advocacy visit to Washington, D.C.? NLC is here to help. Email advocacy@nlc.org for assistance and to coordinate your advocacy efforts.

State League Advocates Urge FCC to Respect Local Authority

Angelina Panettieri, 202.626.3196

In a meeting with the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Wireless Bureau, advocates from the Georgia Municipal Association, Massachusetts Municipal Association, and League of Minnesota Cities urged the FCC to avoid a one-size-fits-all mandate to preempt local authority on small cell wireless facility siting. The meeting was held in response to a Public Notice published by the FCC in December that requested feedback on the current state of small cell deployment in cities.

Image removed. State league leaders meet with FCC Wireless Bureau staff to advocate for local control over broadband infrastructure.
State league leaders meet with FCC Wireless Bureau staff to advocate for local control over broadband infrastructure.

The state municipal league advocates discussed the widely varying challenges faced by cities throughout the nation in working to improve wireless coverage for city residents, while preserving their residents’ rights of way, safety, and city planning priorities. They also shared their cities’ specific challenges, particularly the proliferation of excess or abandoned pole infrastructure in the rights of way, challenges in balancing repeated requests to site wireless infrastructure in densely populated cities, while neighboring rural towns lack service, and the difficulties for local planning officials to acquire adequate staff support for processing of unpredictable influxes of siting applications. The advocates also provided information about the great variation between their states’ respective laws on city authority in wireless siting.

NLC plans to comment on the FCC notice. In addition, we have developed a comment template for use by cities, with instructions for filing comments with the FCC. If your city would like to comment, you must submit completed comments to the FCC by March 8, 2017.

New NLC Infrastructure Report Details Importance of Federal Investment in Municipal Infrastructure

Matthew Colvin, 202.626.3176

This week, the National League of Cities released a new policy report: Drive America's Economy Forward by Reinvesting in Municipal Infrastructure. Throughout America, our once vibrant network of infrastructure is failing us. Too many bridges are in a state of disrepair, our internet lags behind the rest of the world, and families drink from bottled water in the absence of safe tap water. The economic costs of continued inaction are staggering. Failing infrastructure costs America’s families $3,400 annually in lost disposable income.

The report calls on Congress and the Administration to make significant investments in the transportation, water, and broadband infrastructure that together drive the economy of our cities based on the following guiding principles:

  1. America’s cities are paying their fair share: over two-thirds of all public infrastructure projects in the United States are locally financed by municipal bonds.
  2. While the demands on America’s infrastructure grow each year, federal funding has fallen to historically low levels, placing the economic and physical well-being of our cities in jeopardy.
  3. City leaders are best positioned to identify where infrastructure needs are greatest, and should be given a stronger voice in how limited federal dollars are spent.

To read the report and view the accompanying issue brief visit www.nlc.org/infrastructure.

In addition, NLC also recently released updated issue briefs on two additional legislative priorities: protecting municipal bonds and closing the online sales tax loophole. NLC shared the report and issue briefs with the Trump Administration and with key staff on Capitol Hill - where we will continue to advocate for these critical priorities for cities during the 115th Congress.

NLC Voices Support for Key Census Surveys

Brett Bolton, 202.626.3183

Yesterday, NLC met with the Majority Staff of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs to discuss preparations for the 2020 Census. During the conversation about the decennial census, NLC voiced support for the 2017 Economic and Government Census’ and the importance of maintaining the mandatory status of the American Community Survey (ACS). These surveys provide vital data on demographic, housing, socioeconomic and financial characteristics of our cities. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the survey helps to equitably distribute more than $400 billion of federal funding annually on infrastructure and services such as schools, hospitals and emergency response, making census accuracy vital to America’s cities.

The committee will host a hearing next week about the 2020 Census and U.S. Census Bureau Director John H. Thomason will testify on how to better allocate funds for the 2020 survey while reducing waste and increasing efficiency. NLC will monitor the results of this hearing and continue to fight for full funding of the ACS and all Census projects.

Trump Cabinet Confirmations Continue This Week

Stephanie Martinez-Ruckman, 202.626.3098

This week, following highly contentious debates, the Senate confirmed three of President Trump’s Cabinet nominees – U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. 

For the first time in the history of the United States Senate, the Vice President cast the tie breaking vote for the confirmation of a Cabinet nominee. The 51-50 confirmation vote for Betsy DeVos, in which two GOP Senators – Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) – voted against confirmation, came after 24 hours of speeches from Democrats on the Senate floor voicing opposition. 

On Wednesday evening, Senator Jeff Sessions, the long serving Republican Senator from the State of Alabama, was confirmed in a near-party-line vote of 52-47. Similar to Secretary DeVos, Senator Sessions faced strong opposition from Democrats. 

And just this morning at 2 a.m., the Senate confirmed Representative Tom Price (R-GA) to serve as the head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Secretary Price, a medical doctor by training, most recently served as chairman of the House Budget Committee. Approved by a 52-47 vote, Secretary Price has been vocal about his desire to overhaul Medicare and to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Price's views remain off from that of President Trump who has vowed not to cut entitlement programs. 

NLC Urges Appointment of Local Officials in Response to Executive Orders on Public Safety

Yucel Ors, 202.626.3124

Yesterday, following the swearing-in ceremony for Jeff Sessions as the next Attorney General of the United States, President Trump signed three new executive orders related to the U.S. Department of Justice: Enforcing Federal Law with Respect to Transnational Criminal Organizations and Preventing International TraffickingPreventing Violence Against Federal, State, Tribal, and Local Law Enforcement Officers; and Establishing a Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety. The orders are the latest in a string of Presidential actions that target public safety issues. 

The actions taken by the President this week are also directly related to NLC’s Cities Lead campaign that is built on a platform of three issues important to every city: public safety, infrastructure, and the economy. We look forward to working closely with the Department of Justice to provide information on NLC’s extensive data and programs about what works in cities to reduce violent crime and improve public safety.

NLC issued the following statement in response:
 

“The National League of Cities supports President Trump’s actions to evaluate and improve federal programs that support local public safety and crime prevention efforts. Crime rates in cities have steadily fallen over the past decade, and the longstanding federal-local partnership on community-oriented policing should be recognized as a primary reason for that improvement. It is also true that some cities are experiencing a recent increase in violent crime, and improved officer training and community policing strategies can be part of the solution. 

“As the voice of America’s 19,000 cities, the National League of Cities strongly urges Attorney General Sessions to appoint local elected officials who represent both large and small cities to the Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety. City leaders provide an essential viewpoint to comprehensively evaluate public safety programs as one part of the solution for neighborhoods in distress. 

“The National League of Cities looks forward to working with the White House and the Department of Justice to appoint local elected officials to serve on the task force. We are a partner and resource that can provide insight and data on programs that work in cities to reduce violent crime and improve public safety.”

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