Federal Relations Update

June 8, 2012
Federal Relations Update is a member service from the National League of Cities.
Period Ending June 8, 2012

NLC Tells Congress Job Training Bill Would Harm Local Programs

House Committee Makes CDBG a Priority in FY 2013 Spending Bill

House Passes Energy-Water Appropriations Bill

House Passes Homeland Security Bill, White House Issues Veto Threat

Supreme Court Rules in Two Cases Important to Cities

WEBINAR: The Future of Water Infrastructure Funding

WEBINAR: A New Approach to Transportation and Housing Development


NLC Tells Congress Job Training Bill Would Harm Local Programs
Neil Bomberg, bomberg@nlc.org, 202.626.3042


On Thursday, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce passed the Workforce Investment Improvement Act (WIA) of 2012 (H.R. 4279). The bill amends the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 by granting states greater authority over job training programs, reducing the role of local elected officials, and consolidating programmatic funding in a way that may not benefit the neediest WIA clients. It is expected to move to the House floor next week, after which it will be forwarded to the Senate, where no action is expected.

While WIA needs to be modernized,
NLC and the National Association of Counties (NACo) argued in a letter to the Committee chair and ranking member that the bill, as drafted, would do little to improve the existing law or benefit workers and employers and urged the House members to oppose it.

Click here to learn more about NLC’s position on investments in our nation’s workforce.

House Committee Makes CDBG a Priority in FY 2013 Spending Bill
Mike Wallace, wallace@nlc.org, 202.626.3025 and Leslie Wollack, wollack@nlc.org, 202.626.3029


On Thursday, the House Committee on Appropriations' Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Subcommittee passed its first draft of the FY 2013 Transportation-Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD) spending bill. Overall, the House bill provides nearly $2 billion less than the Senate proposal passed last month. Despite that, there are signs that House leaders are responding to outreach from local leaders to prioritize funding for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and other block grant programs. For instance, the House bill provides $3.34 for the CDBG, an increase of $396 million above last year. The bill would also boost HOME funds by $200 million to $1.2 billion, signaling that program changes implemented in response to a critical Washington Post investigation has satisfied lawmakers for now. However, House leaders remain skeptical of several new competitive grant programs championed by the Administration and have again proposed no funding for Sustainable Communities Grants, Choice Neighborhoods Grants, or TIGER grants.

During consideration of the bill, rather than focus on differences between the parties spending priorities, Subcommittee members came together to express frustration over reauthorization of the transportation bill. As a result of the frequent breakdowns in House-Senate negotiations over transportation reauthorization, the Appropriations Committee was forced to make use of assumptions and placeholders in their bill. Any change in those assumptions would reorder the funding allocated within the bill and likely result in unexpected cuts.

Under a normal appropriations process, passage of the Transportation-HUD spending bill in both House and Senate committees would provide a reliable outlook for program funding. This year, however, Congress is widely expected to abandon the normal process as campaigns for the upcoming election take priority. Outstanding questions surrounding the election, threats of automatic spending cuts, and another vote on raising the federal debt limit mean that funding levels provided by congressional appropriators are far from certain.

House Passes Energy-Water Appropriations Bill
Carolyn Berndt, berndt@nlc.org, 202.626.3101


On Wednesday, the House passed the FY 2013 Energy-Water Development Appropriations bill, which funds the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), by a vote of 255 to 165. The bill allocates funding to several programs important to cities, such as $54 million for the Weatherization Assistance Program, which reduces energy costs for low-income families by increasing the energy efficiency of their homes. This amount represents a decrease of $14 million from FY 2012 levels and is $85 million below the President’s request.

The bill also provides $1.5 billion overall for the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy ($428 million below the current level and $886 million less than the President’s request), which funds solar, wind, and other renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency improvements to the nation’s building stock and vehicles.

The bill also includes policy riders, including one preventing the Corps from implementing guidance pertaining to the definition of “waters of the U.S.” under the Clean Water Act. A draft guidance document is currently under review by the Office of Management and Budget; NLC has repeatedly called for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Corps to conduct a formal rulemaking process on this issue, rather than make changes through a guidance document. On Thursday, a stand-alone bill (H.R. 4965) to prevent EPA and the Corps from finalizing the guidance document, or from using it as the basis for a rulemaking, passed the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee by a vote of 33 to 18.


President Obama has threatened to veto the appropriations bill, citing cuts to clean energy promotion and other DOE priorities, the inclusion of several policy riders, and the House decision to adopt top-line budget numbers below those agreed to in the bipartisan deal to cut spending and raise the debt ceiling.

The Senate Appropriations Committee passed its version of the FY 2013 Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill, which includes $145 million for the Weatherization Assistance Program, back in April. The Senate time frame for floor consideration is unclear.

House Passes Homeland Security Bill, White House Issues Veto Threat
Mitchel Herckis, herckis@nlc.org, 202.626.3124


On Thursday, the House passed its FY 2013 Homeland Security Appropriations bill (H.R. 5855). The bill includes significant increases in homeland security grants for localities and first responders, including $1.76 billion allocated for the State and Local Grant Programs—an increase of more than $400 million over last year’s level, and surpassing the President’s budgetary request by more than $200 million. Funding for firefighter grants was decreased by $5 million to $670 million, in line with the President’s request.

As stipulated by Congress in FY 2012, the House bill allocation of the State and Local Grant Program funding is left to the discretion of the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. The Secretary has significant leeway in how to divide the funding between the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) program, State Homeland Security Program (SHSP), Metropolitan Medical Response System (MMRS), Citizens Corps, and a range of transportation and infrastructure protection grant programs. The bill splits the Firefighter Assistance Grants equally between funding for purchasing equipment and funding for the hiring and retention of firefighters.

Earlier in the week, the White House threatened to veto the bill for several reasons, among which was the recent bipartisan rejection of a FY 2013 White House budget proposal to consolidate 16 homeland security grants, which are primarily local in nature, into one state-centric grant program known as the National Preparedness Grant Program (NPGP).

NLC, as part of a coalition of organizations representing emergency response and local government officials, opposed the NPGP, as there are no clear assurances that funding would continue to be passed through states and on to local first responders. The Senate FY 2013 Homeland Security appropriations bill (S. 3216) similarly rejects the NPGP program and does not have the support of the the Chairs or Ranking Members of the Senate or House authorizing committees.

Supreme Court Rules in Two Cases Important to Cities
Lars Etzkorn, etzkorn@nlc.org, 202.626.3173


On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down rulings in two cases in which NLC signed on to amicus curiae briefs filed by the State and Local Legal Center: Reichle v. Howards and Armour v. Indianapolis. In both cases, NLC joined the briefs because the cases represented challenges to local government authority.

In Reichle v. Howards, the Court unanimously granted qualified immunity to two Secret Service agents who had allegedly arrested a suspect for his political speech but had probable cause to arrest the suspect for committing a federal crime. The Court had been asked to decide whether it is possible for an arrestee to bring a First Amendment retaliatory arrest claim where probable cause supports the arrest and whether the agents in this case were entitled to qualified immunity.

In Armour v. Indianapolis, the court was asked to decide whether the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution allows a city to forgive tax obligations to be paid in installments over time, while not refunding payments made by those who paid their tax assessments in full. The court ruled 6 to 3 that the city of Indianapolis did not violate equal protection because it had a rational basis—administrative considerations—for distinguishing between lot owners who paid for their share of sewer improvements and those who had not.

The International City/County Management Association, the International Municipal Lawyers Association, the National Association of Counties, the National Governors Association, and the United States Conference of Mayors joined NLC in signing on to both briefs.

WEBINAR: The Future of Water Infrastructure Funding
Carolyn Berndt, berndt@nlc.org, 202.626.3101


Local governments construct, operate, and maintain the vast amount of the country’s water infrastructure networks, which are essential for economic development and quality of life in our communities. Cities and counties face a backlog of water infrastructure projects and the federal contribution to help meet those needs has declined over the past several decades.

On Wednesday, June 27 from 2:30 to 3:45 p.m. EDT, NLC and NACo will host a webinar to offer an overview of the problem, explain why alternative mechanisms of funding water infrastructure are needed, and examine specific proposals pending in Congress. In addition to speakers from NLC and NACo, participants will hear from Jon Pawlow, Majority Counsel for the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Tyler Frisbee, Legislative Assistant for Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).

Click here to register for the webinar.

WEBINAR: A New Approach to Transportation and Housing Development
Julia Pulidindi, pulidindi@nlc.org, 202.626.3176

One of the biggest planning challenges local elected officials face is how to make the best land use decisions with regard to transportation and housing. Factoring the growth and development of these two components can have serious implications for overall community development. Being able to look at housing and transportation development together can help improve decisions that will create communities that meet current needs and flexible enough to adapt for future development.

On
Thursday, June 14, from 2:30 to 4:00 p.m. EDT, NLC will host a webinar to discuss a Housing and Transportation Affordability Index developed by the Center for Neighborhood Technology that calculates housing affordability not just in terms of housing costs but also considering the transportation costs associated with a home's location. The tool has been used to impact urban development decisions in regions across the country in a variety of applications ranging from public engagement, to the siting of affordable housing, to the selection of corridor alignments for public transit, to garnering support for passenger rail, to the formation of special-purpose funds to finance transit-oriented development. The webinar will share the methodology of the development of the tool and several replicable ways it has been used in municipalities across the U.S.

Click here to view additional information and register for the webinar.