Federal Advocacy Update

April 25, 2014

In this issue:

City Leaders Urge Congress to Pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Leslie Wollack, 202.626.3029

As House Republican leaders continue to voice optimism for action on immigration legislation this summer, city leaders continue to show their support for comprehensive immigration reform. In a letter to Congress signed by NLC's officers and more than 150 other local elected officials, city leaders urged legislators to "pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill that supports secure borders and a path to citizenship for the millions of immigrants currently contributing to our local and national economies."

The Senate passed a comprehensive reform package last summer, but the House has yet to reach consensus on a bill. House Democrats have introduced their own bill incorporating the Senate passed bill and a House Homeland Security Committee bipartisan border security title. That bill, HR 15, has 200 cosponsors including two Republicans.

Read more about NLC's position on comprehensive immigration reform.

Pressure Building On Congress to Enact A New Transportation Program

Leslie Wollack, 202.626.3029

With the current federal transportation program set to expire on September 30, 2014, NLC and city leaders began calling for a new federal transportation program last year. Washington may be getting the message. Last week, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx hit the road on a national bus tour to highlight the need for a new federal transportation program and the impending shortfall in revenues from the Highway Trust Fund to fund transportation investments. In an eight-state visit dubbed "Invest in America, Commit to the Future," Secretary Foxx spoke about the critical role that transportation plays in the local and national economy and warned of the consequences if Congress allows the nation's current transportation program to expire without a new national commitment to infrastructure investment. In addition to the Secretary's tour, the President has also signaled that he will send a transportation reauthorization measure to Congress for consideration as House and Senate committees begin their deliberations on a new program.

"Throughout our history, Americans have always been able to leave their children a brighter future, thanks in part to the opportunities transportation has provided," said Secretary Foxx. "Right now, we are failing our children. We need to not only invest in America, but commit to the future - not only rebuild and repair our roads and bridges, but expand opportunities and economic growth for generations to come."

The impending shortfall in the Highway Trust fund will have real consequences for transportation projects in local communities, and Congress needs to know about this. Does your city have a key project at risk of being delayed or cancelled if Highway Trust Fund resources are depleted? If so, send an e-mail to Leslie Wollack and include your city's population, a description of the project(s) impacted, and the significance of the project to your community's transportation system. 

NLC Urges Congress to Act Now to Extend Terrorism Risk Insurance Program

Yucel Ors, 202.626.3124

The Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) became law in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to help ensure the availability of terrorism risk insurance for local governments and businesses. While the program is not set to expire until the end of the year, the renewal period for risk insurance for many cities is quickly approaching. In order to avoid what could be significant gaps in insurance coverage for local governments, an increase in premiums, or an increase in an assumption of risk they cannot afford, NLC is calling on Congress to extend the program now and not wait until the end of the year.

Support is growing for an extension in both the House and Senate chambers. Earlier this month, a bipartisan group of Senators announced an agreement that would extend TRIA for seven years, the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2014 (S. 2244). In the House, over 80 members have signed on in support of a measure that would extend TRIA for five years. In addition to urging House and Senate leadership to support an extension of TRIA now, NLC will be on the Hill next week to advocate for the extension with members of the Committees with jurisdiction over the legislation, the House Financial Services Committee and the Senate Banking Committee.

NLC Prepares to Meet with New Department of Treasury Office of State and Local Finance

Neil Bomberg, 202.626.3042

Last week, the U.S. Department of Treasury announced the creation of a new Office of State and Local Finance that will focus on state and local finance issues, including distressed municipalities and their management of pensions and other unfunded liabilities. Treasury said the new office, which will be operational in mid-May will "[liaise with] state and municipal officials and associations, monitor developments in the bond markets, support policies to improve the management of public pensions and other liabilities, and develop potential federal policy responses to issues that emerge in municipal financing markets." Kent Kiteshew, formerly of JPMorgan Chase, will head the office. NLC is already planning a meeting with Kiteshew to gain a better understanding of the office's role and scope.

In a statement announcing the office, Treasury indicated that the idea for the office originated after the White House kept receiving requests for assistance by "troubled local governments," but lacked a centralized way of responding.

The heightened attention to notable cases of municipal fiscal stress has created many misperceptions regarding the overall financial condition of state and local governments, particularly concerning bankruptcy, bonds, and pensions. To address this concern, NLC and the national organizations representing the nation's governors, state legislatures, and state and local officials jointly released the 2014 edition of Facts You Should Know: State and Municipal Bankruptcy, Municipal Bonds, State and Local Pensions. The report details facts related to these issues and the degree to which they are having a financial impact on state and local governments. It also provides helpful links to reports documenting the fiscal health of states and localities, as well as the primary drivers of financial distress, where it exists. 

Comment Period Begins on Proposed "Waters of the U.S." Rule

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

This week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) published a proposed rule to change the Clean Water Act (CWA) definition of "Waters of the U.S." The "Waters of the U.S." definition is used to determine whether individual water bodies are jurisdictional under the CWA and thereby subject to permitting and other CWA requirements. With publication in the Federal Register, the 90 day public comment period has begun.

Under the proposed rule, all tributaries and adjacent waters would be considered jurisdictional, as well as "other waters" that would have to meet a "significant nexus" threshold in order to be considered jurisdictional. This means that an increased number of water bodies, including stormwater infrastructure like ditches, channels, and conveyances, as well as green infrastructure construction and maintenance, could be subject to Clean Water Act Section 404 permitting requirements and state water quality standards for the first time. According to the economic analysis of the proposed rule, including these waters as "waters of the U.S." could result in potential new costs for local governments.

The Agencies are accepting comments on the proposed rule through July 21. NLC will be submitting comments to protect the local government interest in this proceeding and urges cites and state leagues to file as well. If your city does file comments, please send a copy to NLC by emailing Carolyn Berndt.

Read more about the proposed rule.

FCC Hosts Webinar For State and Local Governments

Carolyn Coleman, 202.626.3023

Earlier this week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Intergovernmental Affairs Office hosted a webinar for state and local governments. The program covered a range of communications issues including the need to modernize the e-rate program, which NLC supports, to the status of the wireless infrastructure siting rulemaking. In comments filed in the wireless siting Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), NLC urged the Commission to respect the needs of local communities and to refrain from adopting formal rules that would impose a one-size-fits-all interpretation the law. The NPRM Order will likely be released in the fall timeframe.

The archived FCC video of the webinar is available online.