Federal Advocacy Update

March 28, 2014

In this issue:

Take Action: Ask Your Member of Congress to Sign On to CDBG Letter

Mike Wallace, wallace@nlc.org, 202.626.3025

Call your House member today and urge them to sign on to this "Dear Colleague" letter, which calls for $3.3 billion in formula funding for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program in the FY2015 budget, or level funding with the reported FY2013 budget. Since 2012, funding for CDBG has been cut by 25 percent, and this level of funding would begin to reverse that trend. The deadline for signatures has been extended to Monday, March 31.

The House members circulating the letter are Reps. Lou Barletta (R-PA), Robert Brady (D-PA), Chakah Fattah (D-PA), Chris Gibson (R-PA), Peter King (R-NY), and James McGovern (D-MA). Thanks to the efforts of local officials, so far, over 90 House members have signed on to the letter. If your Representative has not signed on, please call and urge them to sign on to the letter now.

Call your representative and urge them to sign on to the letter now »

NLC Calls for Increase in Housing and Transportation Appropriations

Mike Wallace, wallace@nlc.org, 202.626.3025

For the third year in a row, NLC and a coalition of thousands of housing and transportation advocates called on Congress to increase funding for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Transportation. NLC specifically called on the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to increase 302(b) allocations to the respective Appropriations Subcommittees on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) for FY2015. The level of these allocations to the THUD subcommittees directly influences the availability of funds for local priorities, such as CDBG.

In a joint letter, NLC and coalition partners point out that THUD allocation has dropped by over 25 percent since 2010, resulting in stalled transportation projects, lost productivity from traffic congestion, and reduced availability of rental assistance and affordable housing.

NLC Leadership Talks Marketplace Fairness with Judiciary Committee Member

Carolyn Coleman, coleman@nlc.org, 202.626.3023

NLC Leaders Meet with Rep Chaffetz

As a follow up to the recent House Judiciary Committee's hearing on alternatives to the Senate-passed Marketplace Fairness Act, National League of Cities First Vice President Ralph Becker, mayor, Salt Lake City, UT, and NLC Executive Director Clarence Anthony met this week with Judiciary Committee member Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) to urge his support for resolution this year to the issue of remote sales tax collection. In the March 12 hearing, Chaffetz offered to lead the effort in the Judiciary Committee to craft legislation addressing some of the most pressing concerns discussed at the hearing, such as state audits on remote sellers and certification of the software to determine and collect the sales taxes. In the meeting with Chaffetz, Becker pledged NLC's assistance in addressing these concerns. NLC will also continue to advocate for passage of the legislation this year.

NLC and USCM Join Forces to Advocate for Infrastructure Investment

Leslie Wollack, wollack@nlc.org, 202.626.3029

NLC and USCM leaders

With transportation issues a legislative priority for cities across the country, NLC and U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) met recently to review and discuss joint advocacy strategies for a new federal surface transportation program. The current federal transportation program, known as MAP - 21 or Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, expires on September 30, 2014.

In the meeting, the leaders underscored the need to join forces to advocate for strengthened federal intergovernmental partnerships critical to funding local infrastructure investments. As part of a new program, they also agreed to seek expansion of the federal resources available directly to cities and a greater role for local officials in transportation decision-making.

For more information on federal transportation programs, visit NLC's transportation resources webpage »

Cities Must Meet New Pension Financial Reporting Standards June 15

Neil Bomberg, bomberg@nlc.org, 202.626.3042

Earlier this week, the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB), the independent organization that establishes and improves standards of accounting and financial reporting for U.S. state and local governments voted unanimously not to delay the implementation date of new accounting and financial reporting standards for public pensions, GASB Statement No. 68, Accounting and Financial Reporting for Pensions. This means that for reporting periods beginning after June 15, 2014 cities must begin reporting on their financial statements, the "net unfunded accrued liability of their pensions" or the funds that have not yet been added to the pension plan but are expected to be needed to meet all retirement obligations.

Earlier this month, GASB issued a free toolkit that is designed to explain the new rules and to provide cities with information that will ensure that they are able to comply with Statement 68. The toolkit is designed to help preparers, auditors, and users of state and local government financial reports understand and apply the revised pension accounting and financial reporting standards that GASB approved in June 2012.

In addition to GASB's toolkit and in anticipation of these new standards, to guide lawmakers in reviewing the effectiveness of existing funding policies and practices, NLC, along with other national organizations representing the nation's governors, state legislatures, state and local officials, and public finance professionals, released Pension Funding: A Guide for Elected Officials.

EPA, Army Corps Release Proposed Waters of the US Rule

Carolyn Berndt, berndt@nlc.org, 202.626.3101

This week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) released a proposed rule to change the Clean Water Act (CWA) definition of "Waters of the U.S." and help determine whether individual water bodies are jurisdictional under the CWA and thereby subject to permitting and other CWA requirements.

The specific impacts of the proposed rule will likely vary by type and location of a community, whether urban or rural, and upstream or downstream. The economic analysis accompanying the proposed rule indicates that one potential new cost for local government might be related to permit application, implementation and compliance for dredge and fill activities and construction and development.

The proposed rule focuses on three areas: stream systems, including headwaters and tributaries; waters that are adjacent to other waters, including those in riparian areas and floodplains; and "other waters" that would have to meet a "significant nexus" threshold in order to be considered jurisdictional. Under the proposed rule, all tributaries and adjacent waters would be considered jurisdictional.

Specifically, the proposed rule clarifies that under the Clean Water Act and based on the science:

  • Most seasonal and rain dependent streams are protected. 
  • Wetlands near rivers and streams are protected.
  • Other types of waters may have more uncertain connections with downstream water and protection will be evaluated through a case specific analysis of whether the connection is or is not protecting similarly situated waters in certain geographic areas or adding to the categories of waters protected without case specific analysis.

A draft science report, Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence, released by the Agency last fall will serve as the basis for the rulemaking. EPA and the Corps do not intend to release a final Waters of the US rule until the science report is finalized, likely sometime in 2015.

The proposed rule will be open for public comment for 90 days from publication in the Federal Register. NLC is will submit comments and encourages communities to review the proposed rule and to consider doing the same. If your city decides to submit comments, please contact Carolyn Berndt at Berndt@nlc.org.

For more information on the proposed rule, visit EPA's website »

Supreme Court Rules Against Local Government Interest in Rails to Trails Case

Carolyn Coleman, coleman@nlc.org, 202.626.3023

In a case addressing rights of way for abandoned railroads, Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court held 8-1 that a private party, rather than the federal government, owns an abandoned railroad right-of-way granted by the General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of 1875.

In a brief filed through the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC), NLC argued that a series of federal statutes granted the United States title to abandoned rights-of-way unless a state or local government establishes a "public highway," including a recreational trail, within one year of abandonment. But the Court concluded these statutes do not apply to 1875 rights-of-way because "these statutes do not tell us whether the United States has an interest in any particular right of way; they simply tell us how any interest the United States might have should be disposed of."

In the Court's decision, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the lone dissenter, summarized why this case is a loss for federal, state, and local government: "[T]he Court undermines the legality of thousands of miles of former rights of way that the public now enjoys as means of transportation and recreation. And lawsuits challenging the conversion of former rails to recreational trails alone may well cost American taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars."

A longer summary of this case is available on the SLLC website »

DHS Releases Applications for FY 2014 Preparedness Grants and Plans to Consolidate Program in FY 2015

Yucel Ors, ors@nlc.org, 202.626.3124

Earlier this week, DHS announced the release of FY 2014 Funding Opportunity Announcements for six DHS preparedness grant programs totaling over $1.6 billion. The six grant programs include funding for state, tribal, urban, and private sector organizations to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from terrorism. They also include dedicated funding for physical hardening of nonprofits in certain urban areas, funding for protection of critical infrastructure in the Amtrak system, funding for protection of critical port infrastructure, and funding for protection and resilience of transit infrastructure.

All of the announcements can be found at www.grants.gov. Applications for Emergency Management Performance Grants are due on April 9, 2014, and all other preparedness grant applications are due May 23, 2014. For additional information on on DHS's preparedness grant programs, go to www.dhs.gov and www.fema.gov/grants.

In related action, in testimony this week before a House Committee, Craig Fugate, Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), proposed consolidating 16 state and local homeland security grant programs into a single grant program called the National Preparedness Grant Program (NPGP). The NPGP legislative proposal would convert the current suite of state and local homeland security grant programs into a single state administered block and competitive grant programs in which funding decisions are based on state and multi-state threat assessments without clear local involvement. FEMA's main argument for this proposal is that it would reduce overhead costs of administering the program.

NLC opposes the proposed legislation because it would reduce the resources available to help local governments protect their communities. NLC is working closely with emergency management stakeholders to defeat this proposal.