Federal Relations Update

February 10, 2012
Federal Relations Update is a member service from the National League of Cities.
Period Ending February 10, 2012

President Prepares to Introduce FY 2013 Budget Proposal

Latest on Transportation Reauthorization

DOT Announces Next Round of TIGER Grants

President’s Housing Plan Would Help Cities, Congress Unlikely to Cooperate

Fifth Circuit Rules Against Cities in Shot Clock Case

Administration Launches Summer Jobs Program

NLC Files Reply Comments Regarding Next Generation 911

Agencies Release Updates on Regulatory Review Plans


President Prepares to Introduce FY 2013 Budget Proposal
Carolyn Coleman, coleman@nlc.org, 202.626.3023


On Monday, President Obama will announce his FY 2013 budget proposal.  And, while it will be largely ignored by the House and Senate—whose leadership will announce their own plans for allocating a little over $1 trillion dollars across hundreds of domestic programs later this spring—the President's mark will shed light on his Administration's spending priorities.

In terms of the amount available for spending, last year’s deficit reduction law (The Budget Control Act) set a cap on FY 2013 spending of $1.047 trillion, which is slightly higher than the current fiscal year cap of $1.043 but lower than the FY 2011 enacted level of $1.055 trillion.  If the President proposes to spend above the cap, he’ll need to identify offsets in the budget.  To find the offsets or generate additional savings, among other options, the President could seek funding cuts to programs important to cities or propose a cap on tax exclusions, which could be harmful to the municipal bond market.  We are already working to prevent either of these options from gaining any traction in what is expected to be yet another protracted budget battle.

We will be tracking the President's announcement and attending a myriad of federal agency budget briefings throughout the day on Monday and will provide updates on the NLC website as soon as we are able to put together a clearer picture of the proposal's impact on programs important to cities and towns.

Latest on Transportation Reauthorization
Leslie Wollack, wollack@nlc.org, 202.626.3029


With a March 31 deadline looming for expiration of the current surface transportation program, there has been a whirlwind of activity in recent weeks to remove barriers to adoption of a long-term reauthorization bill. Committees in both chambers have introduced very different pieces of legislation, which will be brought before the full House and Senate next week for debate. In addition to major policy differences, pressing issues and concern include funding sources for federal transit, highway, and bridge programs and the duration of the program.

American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act of 2012 (H.R. 7)

After a marathon 18-hour session last week, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee adopted H.R. 7, a five-year, $260 billion bill, on a mostly party-line vote. The House Ways and Means Committee, responsible for the funding portion of the bill, then voted for a radical shift in financing for public transportation programs—a move strongly opposed by more than 600 interest groups, including NLC.

The bill, as adopted by that Committee, would force transit, including rural and urban public transportation and the Congestion Management Air Quality program, to be funded through the annual appropriations process rather than through the Highway Trust Fund, which is funded with federal fuel taxes. Transit programs would now be forced to compete with funding for local programs, military, foreign aid and defense spending for annual appropriations.

Due to the on-going partisan debate over the House bill and its financing, it is unclear whether leadership will have the support to pass the bill once it reaches the House floor.
 

Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21, S. 1813)

Yesterday, the Senate began procedural votes to move its version of the surface transportation authorization, MAP-21, after the Senate Finance Committee approved its section of the bill earlier in the week. The two-year bill provides full funding of federal transportation programs, including an additional $13 billion in funding above federal transportation revenues in the Highway Trust Fund. The Committee also added a provision to keep transit commuting benefits equal to parking benefits that expired at the end of last year.

Though the Senate has enjoyed mostly bipartisan support among the four committees that have jurisdiction over the bill, strong policy debates remain for the floor debate.

 

NLC will continue to monitor the progress of both bills and will post updates, including details on amendments, financing, set-asides, and other hot issues on the NLC website.

DOT Announces Next Round of TIGER Grants
Leslie Wollack, wollack@nlc.org, 202.626.3029


The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) recently published a Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) for a fourth round of the TIGER discretionary grant program.  The pre-application deadline is February 20, and final applications are due March 19.

As with previous rounds of the TIGER program, funds for FY2012 grants will be awarded on a competitive basis for projects that will have a significant impact on the nation, a metropolitan area, or a region.  The NOFA is similar to last year’s notice with some exceptions:

  • Eligible applicants may submit, as a lead applicant, no more than three applications for consideration;
  • Any applicant that is applying for a TIGER TIFIA Payment must also submit a TIFIA letter of interest along with their application; and 
  • Funds must be obligated by September 30, 2013. The limited amount of time for which the funds will be made available means that DOT will focus on the extent to which a project is ready to proceed with obligation of grant funds when evaluating applications, and give priority to those projects that are ready to proceed sooner than other competitive projects.

More information about the latest round of TIGER grants is available at http://www.dot.gov/tiger.

President’s Housing Plan Would Help Cities, Congress Unlikely to Cooperate
Mike Wallace, wallace @nlc.org, 202.626.3025


Last week, President Obama announced his latest plan to help struggling homeowners lower their mortgage payments to avoid foreclosure and help neighborhoods hard hit by vacant and abandoned housing.  However, much of the plan would need Congressional approval, making enactment doubtful without a groundswell of support.  

The primary beneficiaries of the plan would be homeowners who are current on their mortgage payments but unable to refinance into lower rates for reasons including owning an underwater mortgage.  To help homeowners, borrowers with privately held or insured mortgages who have been denied refinancing by their lender would be able to access refinancing through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).  Homeowners with mortgages held by the FHA, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or the U.S. Department of Agriculture would be given similar access to refinancing through those agencies.  The cost of the program is estimated at $5 to $10 billion and would be paid for with a new Financial Crisis Responsibility Fee” on financial institutions.

The President’s plan also would devote new funding to cities and towns through two programs, Project Rebuild and the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.  A detailed White House fact sheet can be found here.  NLC supports the Administration’s efforts and urges the President and Congress to find common ground on these important issues.  

Fifth Circuit Rules Against Cities in Shot Clock Case
 Laura Bonavita, bonavita @nlc.org, 202.626.3037

Late last month, a federal appeals court upheld the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) limits on the amount of time local and state governments have to consider cell tower siting applications.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rejected a challenge brought by the cities of Arlington and San Antonio, Texas—in which NLC intervened—leaving in place a 2009 FCC ruling that a “reasonable period of time” for local and state governments to act on applications for co-located sitings is 90 days and 150 days for all other applications.  The decision means that if local officials fail to act within these time frames, a wireless carrier may file a claim for relief in court.

The court’s official decision can be read here.  Arlington and San Antonio are currently evaluating options for further judicial review.


Administration Launches Summer Jobs Program
Neil Bomberg, bomberg@nlc.org, 202.626.3042


As part of the Administration’s efforts to put people back to work, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis officially announced on Tuesday the launch of Summer Jobs+ 2012, a program designed to put low-income youth into summer jobs.  The Administration believes that this initiative is especially timely this year, as the federal government no longer funds a summer jobs program due to cuts to the Workforce Investment Act.

The goal of the Summer Jobs+ program is to help increase the number of young people who obtain summer jobs, and decrease substantially the overall unemployment rate.  The Administration is asking businesses, non-profits, and state and local governments to provide youth with paid summer jobs, internships, and job shadowing experiences that will provide them with a range of skills that will help the connect to the world-of-work.  Cities and towns that are interested in participating in this initiative may sign up at http://www.dol.gov/summerjobs/Employers.htm.

NLC Files Reply Comments Regarding Next Generation 911
Laura Bonavita, bonavita@nlc.org, 202.626.3037


Yesterday, NLC filed Reply Comments with the FCC concerning Next Generation 911 (NG911) applications and deployment (PS Docket Nos. 11-153 and 10-255).

The comments were filed jointly with NLC’s local government partners, the National Association of Counties and the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors. The comments state that any proposed enhancements and improvements to NG911 must be balanced against available funding and strained local government budgets. Additionally, the comments assert that a robust public education initiative must be undertaken to educate the public about the availability, and limitations of, 911 text messaging.

Click here to view the comments.


Agencies Release Updates on Regulatory Review Plans
Stephanie Crandall, crandall@nlc.org, 202.626.3030

In January 2011, President Obama issued Executive Order 13563: Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review, calling for federal agencies to develop plans for conducting reviews to analyze regulations that might have been “outmoded, ineffective, insufficient, or excessively burdensome, and to modify, streamline, expand or repeal them.”  A little more than a year later, 26 agencies have released final plans for continuing their retrospective reviews and updates on the rules identified for review.

NLC has been working with many of these agencies to identify areas where the federal government can reduce the burden unnecessary regulation places on local governments and taxpayers.  For instance, NLC has worked with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on creating cost-effective approaches to complying with Clean Water Act requirements through the integrated planning approach for municipal stormwater and wastewater.  NLC also continues to monitor the Federal Highway Administration’s revisions to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devises for compliance dates on various requirements, including street signs and their retroreflectivity.

Click here to view a consolidated list of the agencies’ final plans.