Federal Advocacy Update

August 1, 2014

Members of Congress will be at home for the remainder of August for their annual summer recess, returning to Washington after the Labor Day holiday. As such, the Federal Advocacy Update will take a break as well - the next edition will be published on Friday, September 12.

In this issue:

Congress Goes on Recess, Leaving Critical Unfinished Business

Federal Advocacy Staff

With Congress adjourning today for a five-week recess, National League of Cities Executive Director Clarence Anthony issued the following statement on the critical legislative priorities that were left unaddressed in this session:

"Today Congress adjourns, leaving behind a huge amount of unfinished business that would help cities better serve their residents and communities. While this Congress did pass several important pieces of legislation, including the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA), it failed to move on some of the most pressing issues facing cities. This includes passing a long-term transportation bill that will create jobs, support economic development and update our nation's infrastructure. It also means passing legislation that would level the playing field between our brick-and-mortar businesses and their online counterparts when it comes to collecting sales taxes."

The National League of Cities (NLC) is dedicated to helping city leaders build better communities. NLC is a resource and advocate for 19,000 cities, towns and villages, representing more than 218 million Americans.

Congress Passes Transportation Program Extension

Leslie Wollack, 202.626.3029

This week, Congress passed a short term extension of federal transportation programs, avoiding a reduction in federal reimbursements to state departments of transportation for highway, bridge, and transit projects. The bill extends the current federal transportation program through May 2015.

applauded Congress for its work to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent, and called on legislators to continue working toward a long-term, comprehensive transportation bill.
"Any long-term surface transportation bill must provide local leaders with the ability to help decide which projects are right to meet the needs of their communities," said NLC Executive Director Clarence Anthony. "With the clock ticking, Congress must move swiftly to fund the critical infrastructure our nation depends upon."

Visit NLC's website for a transportation funding advocacy toolkit to use with your congressional delegation during the August recess.

Urge Your Senator to Support S 2609, the Marketplace and Internet Fairness Tax Act

Julia Pulidindi, 202.626.3176 and Priya Ghosh Ahola, 202.626.3015

On July 15, Senators Enzi (WY), Durbin (IL), Alexander (TN), Heitkamp (ND), Collins (ME) and Pryor (AR) introduced the Marketplace and Internet Tax Fairness Act (MITFA), which NLC strongly supports. The legislation combines the Marketplace Fairness Act, which passed the Senate last year with a strong bipartisan majority (69-27), with a ten-year extension of the Internet Tax Freedom Act (ITFA.) Additional co-sponsors of the legislation are Senators Landrieu (LA), Roy Blunt (MO), Jack Reed (RI), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Benjamin Cardin (MD), Tim Johnson (SD), Amy Klobuchar (MN) and Al Franken (MN).

With most Senators returning to the districts during the five week recess and with the potential for a Senate vote on MITFA as early as September when the session resumes, now is the time for local leaders to meet with their Senators and urge their support for this important legislation.

If your Senator is not already a co-sponsor of the legislation (see above), we need you to contact them and urge them to sign on as a co-sponsor and to support passage of the legislation. You should also urge them to reject any efforts to make the moratorium on Internet access taxes permanent. If your Senator is already a sponsor of S. 2609, please call and thank them for their support.

Earlier this month, the House, which has yet to schedule action on MFA, passed the Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act. NLC opposed the bill because it would permanently strip local governments of the authority to tax or impose fees on Internet access; cost the seven states who are grandfathered under the original ITFA legislation $500 million a year in revenues; and fails to recognize the enormous technological changes underway that could end up shielding a rapidly growing sector of our economy from state and local taxation.

Department of Transportation Proposes New Rail Safety Standards

Leslie Wollack, 202.626.3029

Last week, the U.S. Department of Transportation released the long awaited proposed rule setting new standards for transporting oil by rail following a year's worth of disasters and near disasters.

Both this proposal and a Canadian transportation regulation issued earlier this year would strengthen tank car designs and force shippers to test hazardous materials before shipping.

The Department's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) in coordination with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), is proposing: (1) new operational requirements for certain trains transporting a large volume of Class 3 flammable liquids; (2) improvements in tank car standards; and (3) revision of the general requirements for offerors to ensure proper classification and characterization of mined gases and liquids. The proposed requirements are "designed to lessen the frequency and consequences of train accidents/incidents (train accidents) involving certain trains transporting a large volume of flammable liquids," according to the rule.

The growing reliance on trains to transport large volumes of flammable liquids poses a significant risk to life, property, and the environment. These significant risks have been highlighted by the recent instances of trains carrying crude oil that derailed in Casselton, North Dakota; Aliceville, Alabama; and Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Canada.

The proposed changes also address National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) safety recommendations on the accurate classification and characterization of such commodities, enhanced tank car construction, and rail routing.

Several NLC policy committees are collaborating on an update to NLC's National Municipal Policy to address the concerns of communities impacted by increased shipments of hazardous materials, and NLC will file comments on aspects of the proposed rules impacting local governments. 

NLC Urges Support for Resolution Recognizing 40th Anniversary of CDBG

Michael Wallace, 202.626.3025

In recognition of the 40th anniversary of the Community Development Block Grant program (CDBG), which President Ford signed into law on August 22, 1974, the co-chairs of the Congressional Urban Caucus, Representatives Chaka Fattah (D-PA) and Michael Turner (R-OH) and a bipartisan group of supporters, including Representatives McGovern (D-MA), Barletta (R-PA), Brady (D-PA), and Gibson (R-NY), introduced H.Res. 668, Supporting the goals and ideals of the Community Development Block Grant program.

NLC is partnering with these long serving congressional champions of the CDBG program to help secure additional cosponsors for the resolution, which currently stands at 42. To show your support for the CDBG program with members of your House delegation, click here.

President's Plan to Help Cities Prepare for the Impacts of Climate Change

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

As the President's Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience met for the final time earlier this month, President Obama announced a series of actions to respond to the Task Force's early feedback to help local leaders prepare their communities for the impacts of climate change by developing more resilient infrastructure and rebuilding existing infrastructure stronger and smarter.

Several of the actions focus on disaster resilience, including new details on a $1 billion National Disaster Resilience Competition that will make resources available to communities that have been struck by natural disasters in recent years. Other actions include:

  • A pilot program through FEMA's Mitigation and Recovery programs that will equip communities to rebuild in a more resilient fashion using a single funding source and program. 
  • New guidance for State Hazard Mitigation Plans that calls upon states to consider climate variability as part of their requirement to address the probability of future events in state planning efforts.
  • Two "Preparedness Pilots" in cooperation with the City of Houston and the State of Colorado to bring together federal agencies and local communities to assess and plan for their region-specific vulnerabilities associated with the impacts of climate change. This effort will advance preparedness planning on the ground and help create models for other communities and agencies to follow.
  • Advance green stormwater infrastructure by provide funding assistance in at least 25 communities across the country for green infrastructure projects and technical assistance to create integrated green stormwater management and hazard mitigation plans. Agencies will also add guidance on green infrastructure to existing U. S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) peer-to-peer exchange and training programs.

Several of the President's announcements were presented to the Task Force in May as part of an NLC effort, working through the Resilient Communities for America campaign. The Task Force, which consists of 16 local elected officials and 8 governors and included NLC First Vice President Ralph Becker, mayor, Salt Lake City, was charged with developing recommendations on how the federal government can support local adaptation efforts.

NLC supported the President's announcement as a way to help cities plan and rebuild stronger and smarter that in the long run will save taxpayers money.

NLC Leaders Gather to Discuss Federal Policy, Advocacy Opportunities

NLC Federal Advocacy Staff

NLC Second Vice President Melodee Colbert Kean, council member of Joplin, MO, opens the Summer Policy Forum
Last week, over 150 local leaders gathered in Saint Paul, MN, as part of NLC's policy development process to consider and debate proposed policy changes to NLC's National Municipal Policy. In addition to special strategy sessions on NLC's advocacy goals, the local leaders, all members of NLC's Policy and Advocacy Steering Committees, considered a wide variety of issues, including transportation funding and planning, public pensions, the growth of broadband services, economic development, and city climate adaptation and resilience. 

Members of several committees also joined Ramsey County Commissioner Jim McDonough for a tour of Saint Paul's recently redeveloped Union Depot station and new Green Line light rail. Members of these committees saw firsthand how a county-run transit facility helped to revitalize the Lowertown neighborhood in the City of Saint Paul, incorporating multi-modal transportation, a local food movement, mixed-income housing development, and a growing artist community.

Read more for full details on individual steering committee meetings.