Federal Advocacy Update: Week Ending May 20, 2016

Flags in DC
Flags in DC

In this issue:

Cities Tell Congress: Infrastructure Matters

Ashley Smith, 202.626.3094

This week, NLC joined partners and local leaders for Infrastructure Week 2016. At meetings and briefings on Capitol Hill, from cities across the country, and online, NLC advocated for our top legislative priorities, including the tax exemption for municipal bonds, reauthorization of the EPA Brownfields Program, and water infrastructure investment. Together we ensured that federal decision-makers heard loud and clear that infrastructure matters to cities.

On Monday, NLC was joined by NLC 2nd Vice President Mayor Mark Stodola, Little Rock, Arkansas, Chris McKenzie, Executive Director, League of California Cities, and U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to debut NLC's new report: "Paying for Local Infrastructure in a New Era of Federalism". The report, featured in Governing magazine, examines the tools available to local leaders for infrastructure funding and financing in all 50 states.

Also on Monday, NLC co-hosted a two-part webinar series with the National Association of Counties (NACo) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) on locally-focused broadband initiatives. In case you missed it, click here to download the Part 1 recording and click here to download the Part 2 recording.

On Wednesday, Chairs of four NLC Advocacy Committee's and staff from the Maryland and Michigan Municipal Leagues traveled to Capitol Hill to meet with members of Congress. During these meetings, Mayor Patrick Wojahn, College Park, Maryland (Transportation and Infrastructure Services), Mayor Craig Thurmond, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma (Community and Economic Development), Mayor Pro Tempore Sheri Capehart, Arlington, Texas (Information Technology and Communications), Council Member Ron Nirenberg, San Antonio, Texas (Energy, Environment and Natural Resources), Candace Donoho, Director, Governmental Relations, Maryland Municipal League, and John LaMacchia II, Assistant Director of State Affairs, Michigan Municipal League, advocated for water infrastructure investment, the tax exemption for municipal bonds and the EPA Brownfields Program.

I-Week Advocacy Day

As NLC leaders converged on Capitol Hill, city officials added their voice to the chorus from home by sending letters to their members of Congress urging them to make infrastructure investment a priority.

NLC concluded Infrastructure Week with a pair of Capitol Hill briefings Thursday afternoon. During the first briefing, Mayor Thurmond joined Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and elected leaders from the American Association of Highway and Transportation Officials, The Council of State Governments, Government Finance Officers Association, International City/County Management Association, National Association of Counties, National Conference of State Legislatures and the National Governors Association for a panel discussion. Featured in Route Fifty, the panelists discussed the importance of tax exempt municipal bonds in paying for the construction and maintenance of America's infrastructure.

Hill Briefings

During the second briefing, NLC 1st Vice President and Council Member Matt Zone from Cleveland, Ohio, Council Member Nirenberg, and NLC CEO and Executive Director Clarence Anthony joined the Value of Water Coalition and local leaders to discuss how their communities are solving some of the most pressing water challenges of our time through innovative partnerships, policies, programs, and financing models. Click here to watch the recording of the live broadcast.

Throughout Infrastructure Week, NLC's message was amplified through social media under the hashtag #InfrastructureMatters. NLC's Facebook page also hosted live interviews of staff and local officials, including Council Member NirenbergWest Coast Infrastructure Exchange Executive Director Jonathan TruttNLC Director of Federal Advocacy Carolyn Coleman, and NLC Research Director Christina McFarland and Principal Associate Nicole DuPuis.

NLC's blog, CitiesSpeak, also focused on the importance of investing in infrastructure and featured guest posts from Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK)Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR)Mayor ThurmondMayor WojahnMayor Stephanie Miner, Syracuse, New York, and Council Member Nirenberg.

For additional photos and highlights from Infrastructure Week, follow NLC on Twitter and Facebook.

Senate Committee Passes Brownfields Legislation with NLC's Support

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

This week, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed the Brownfields Utilization, Investment, and Local Development Act (BUILD Act, S. 1479). This bill, which NLC supports, will reauthorize the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Brownfields program.

The standalone bill is identical to the brownfields reauthorization language that the Senate approved in April as part of the bipartisan Energy Policy Modernization Act (S. 2012). The bipartisan BUILD Act, sponsored by Senators James Inhofe (R-OK) and Edward Markey (D-MA), would authorize funding for multipurpose grants, increase funding levels for remediation grants, increase technical assistance for communities, and allow local governments to be eligible for grant funding for properties that were acquired prior to the January 11, 2002 enactment of the Brownfields Revitalization Act.

NLC urged Congress to make additional improvements to the brownfields program, including asking Congress to go further in addressing local government liability concerns in acquiring contaminated properties where the local government had no role in creating the contamination. The current law creates a disincentive for local governments and is a barrier to the cleanup and productive reuse of brownfields properties in communities nationwide. 

As part of Infrastructure Week this week, NLC leadership met with both Energy and Commerce and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee staff, as well as several member offices to encourage passage of a brownfields reauthorization bill - whether through conference committee on the energy bill or standalone legislation - that addresses the local government liability concerns and makes general improvements to the program.

Hill Staff tell Local Officials to Expect More Funding Delays in FY 2017

Michael Wallace, 202.626.3025

Despite the genuine efforts of House and Senate Leaders to "restore regular order" by passing all federal spending bills on time before the new fiscal year, rank and file members are continuing to use spending bills as a means of forcing consideration of hot-button policy issues not directly related to federal funding. As a result, the message from Congressional staff to local officials in Washington, D.C. for Infrastructure Week was to expect more funding delays for programs funded under Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 spending bills, possibly until after the November elections when the current Congress returns for a "lame-duck" session.

Despite the anticipated delays, programs important to cities and towns continue to fare well for the most part in House and Senate proposals. Last week, the Senate approved its FY 2017 Appropriations for Transportation, Housing and Urban Development. The bill maintains funding at existing levels for CDBG and HOME, at $3 billion and $950 million respectively. The bill also incorporates one important change to the HOME program sought by NLC and other stakeholders: it eliminates a 24-month commitment deadline for HOME funding that grantees were concerned would have eliminated access to previously allocated HOME funds. The bill also includes a provision clarifying that the new federal "Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing" rule does not give HUD the authority to intervene in local decisions regarding zoning ordinances.

In the House, several spending bills are making their way through the process. The House proposal for its FY 2017 Appropriations for Transportation, Housing and Urban Development also maintains funding at $3 billion for CDBG. Under transportation, both the Senate and House bills would increase funding for highways, aviation, rail, and transit programs above FY 2016 levels and in line with the recently passed FAST Act surface transportation bill. The TIGER Grant Program, which was not made permanent in the FAST Act, would continue to receive funding in FY 2017, with the House cutting back $50 million and the Senate providing an extra $25 million over Fiscal Year 2016 levels, for a total of $525 million in the Senate and $450 million in the House.

The House also moved the FY 17 Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations bill through Committee this week. The bill includes a total of $2.3 billion for various criminal justice grant programs, an overall reduction of $183 million below the FY 2016 enacted level and $103 million below the President's request. But some programs still fared well, including $528 million for the Violence Against Women account (an increase of $48 million), $425 million for Byrne Justice Assistance Grants (an increase of $78 million), and $274 million for the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (an increase of $64 million). The bill also shifts $103 million to fund grant programs authorized by the House passed Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Reduction Act of 2016. This includes funding for activities such as drug courts, treatment, and prescription drug monitoring.

Disappointingly, programs targeted for cuts or elimination include the COPS Hiring Grant Program, as it is considered to be a low priority and duplicative of other grant programs. NLC is concerned the House cuts to the COPS Hiring Grant Program could severely undermine local efforts to improve community policing efforts.

DOL Publishes New Overtime Rule

Carolyn Coleman, 202.626.3023

Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Labor announced the publication of the long-awaited final overtime rule. The Administration says the new rule will extend overtime eligibility to more than 4 million additional workers within the first year of implementation and boost wages by $12 billion over the next 10 years.

The rule, which will be effective December 1, significantly increases the minimum salary level for "white collar" employees to qualify as exempt from overtime pay requirements. Under the new rule, no employee who has a guaranteed salary of less than $47,476 will qualify as exempt under the executive, administrative, or professional exemptions. That's more than double the current minimum salary level of $23,660. 

Additionally, the final rule includes a mechanism for automatically updating the salary threshold every three years (a change from the proposal of yearly adjustments). The next automatic update to the salary threshold would be on January 1, 2020, and the new salary level will be announced 150 days before it takes effect. The minimum salary level is set based on the 40th percentile of wages of full-time salaried employees in the lowest wage Census region (currently, the South). The final rule does not make any changes to the "duties" test for executive, administrative, and professional employees.

Because the proposed changes were expected to have an impact on local governments, NLC and other local government associations pressed for modifications. NLC submitted comments last September that outlined cities' concerns with the proposal. We also met with DOL and White House Office of Management and Budget representatives to express our concerns before the final rule was published.

NLC continues to believe that the new salary level is too high and will cause significant strain on local government budgets and overall compensation systems. We will now step up directing our concerns to Congress, which is considering legislation, the Protecting Workplace Advancement and Opportunity Act (S. 2707 and H.R. 4773), that would nullify the new rule and require DOL to conduct a deeper economic analysis on the impact these changes would have on public entities before moving forward. If your city is concerned about the impact the overtime rule will have on it, please contact your members of Congress and share how this change will affect your ability to serve your residents by clicking here.

For more information on the new rule, click here. In addition, the Department of Labor is hosting a webinar on the applicability of the rule to state and local governments on June 8, 2016, at 1:00 p.m. - 2:30 p.m., EDT. To register, click here. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email message that contains detailed information about joining the event.

In Meeting with NLC, Speaker Ryan Talks Fate of Key Municipal Issues

Carolyn Coleman, 202.626.3023

Paul Ryan
House Speaker Paul Ryan meets with NLC Director of Federal Advocacy Carolyn Coleman and local officials from Wisconsin on Monday, May 9, 2016.


The presumptive Republican nominee for president wasn't the only one meeting with U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan last week. On Monday, May 9, NLC had the opportunity to sit down with Speaker Ryan, along with a handful of Wisconsin local officials and leadership of the Wisconsin League of Municipalities, in Janesville, Wisconsin, to discuss National League of Cities legislative priorities for America's cities and towns.

Joining NLC Federal Advocacy Directory Carolyn Coleman in the session with the Speaker were: Racine Mayor John Dickert, Janesville City Manager Mark Freitag, Kenosha City Administrator Frank Pacetti, West Allis Mayor and League President Dan Devine, Manitowoc Mayor and Urban Alliance President Justin Nickels, Wisconsin League of Municipalities (League) Executive Director Jerry Deschane, League Assistant Executive Director Curt Witynski, and League Communications Director Gail Sumi.

Click here to read more about the meeting on our blog.

House and Senate Prepare to Conference on Opioid Measures

Yucel Ors, 202.626.3124

Last week, the House overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan package of bills to battle the growing epidemic of painkiller abuse and heroin addiction in the United States. The package includes provisions to establish a grant program at the Department of Justice (DOJ) that can be used to develop alternatives to incarceration; train state and local public safety personnel on substance abuse disorder and mental illness; increase funding for mental health, drug abuse, and veteran's courts; and raise the limit on the number of patients that doctors can treat with drugs to ease the symptoms of withdrawal.

In March, the Senate passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (S. 524) that contains similar provisions to help address the growing epidemic.

NLC and the National Association of Counties (NACo), as part of their joint efforts on the National City-County Task Force on the Opioid Epidemic, are now urging the House and the Senate to reconcile differences in these bills and to send a final package to the President's desk for signature.

When Is a Political Subdivision a Political Subdivision?

Carolyn Coleman, 202.626.3023

The IRS is seeking comments on a set of proposed rules that seek to clarify and further develop the definition of a "political subdivision" for purposes of issuing tax exempt debt. NLC will be filing comments, which are due on May 23.

The proposed rules set forth a new, three-part federal test to define political subdivisions in order for these entities to issue tax-exempt debt. Every entity would have to meet all three tests to be a political subdivision. If an entity fails even one test, it would not be considered a political subdivision under the rule. Under the new test, the entity must: (1) have right to exercise a substantial amount of at least one of three sovereign powers (the power of eminent domain, power of taxation and the police power); (2) serve a governmental purpose; and (3) be an entity over which a state or local government exercises control.

In its comments, NLC will raise concerns with the proposed rules' far-reaching scope and potential negative impacts on political subdivisions across the U.S. The proposed rules add extensive and additional federal requirements on top of the existing State powers requirement. They put at risk not just the ability to issue future tax-exempt bonds that would consequently weaken our country's aging infrastructure, but by changing the definition requirements, the proposed regulations also impact outstanding bonds issued by political subdivisions. If enacted, political subdivisions may be subject to remedial action that may be costly to the community it serves and subject outstanding bonds to a taxable status after the proposed transition period expires.

While the proposed rules make clear that the intent of the rule is to adopt safeguards to prevent potential abuses, the application of the them would have an overreaching effect for all political subdivisions that are well established, formed within State law and presently providing significant public benefit.

Administration Launches Smart Cities Pilot for Rural Communities

Angelina Panettieri, 202.626.3196

This month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities Service and the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Sustainable Communities launched the "Cool & Connected" pilot to help rural communities use broadband service to revitalize small-town main streets and promote economic development.

The Cool & Connected pilot will provide participating cities with technical assistance to develop a plan for using planned or existing broadband infrastructure to create walkable, connected main streets and neighborhoods that are economically and environmentally sustainable. The pilot phase of the program includes five partner communities, including NLC member city Georgetown, Delaware, which is exploring ways to leverage existing broadband infrastructure to provide public internet access and to attract and retain businesses downtown.

Click here to learn more about this and other federal smart growth programs available for small communities.

Zika Virus: What Cities Need to Know

Ashley Smith, 202.626.3094

With summer right around the corner and concerns over the spread of Zika virus growing, now is the time for cities to learn about the disease and the steps you can take to ensure your community is educated and prepared. Join the National League of Cities and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for a webinar to hear the latest on the federal government's response and to learn what city leaders can do.

Date: June 6, 2016
Time: 1:30PM EDT
Register for the webinar here.

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