Federal Relations Update

May 11, 2012
Federal Relations Update is a member service from the National League of Cities.
Period Ending May 11, 2012

Congress Begins Tough Negotiations on Transportation Programs

National, State, and Local Officials and Education Groups Push for ESEA Reauthorization

House Supports Level Funding for COPS

Regulatory Reforms Provide Cities with More Flexibility

Legislation Introduced in House to Increase Bank Qualified Limit

Local Leaders Talk Transportation, Local Priorities on Capitol Hill

WEBINAR: Building a Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network

WEBINAR: Major Supreme Court Cases Affecting State and Local Governments

The White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs is Now on Twitter

NLC Sends Congress Key Principles and Values for Cybersecurity



Congress Begins Tough Negotiations on Transportation Programs

Leslie Wollack, wollack@nlc.org, 202.626.3029


On Tuesday, members of the House and Senate who have been tasked with negotiating a long-term national program for funding highway, bridge, and transit programs via conference committee, came together to stake out their opening positions. The 47 committee members highlighted some of the key differences that have held up agreement on this issue since the original program expired in September 2009 but gave no indication of a quick resolution of the deep divisions between the House and Senate positions.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and chair of the transportation conference, pointed out that the Senate had already passed a bipartisan bill, S. 1813, with 74 votes. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Rep. John Mica (R-FL), the conference co-chair, indicated that House conferees were not ready to compromise and adopt the Senate legislation, expressing concern over the cost and financing of the $109 billion, two-year bill. House leaders have been unable to gain consensus among Republicans to support their own 5-year authorization bill, H.R. 7, which never reached the House floor for a vote.

For local governments, there are many key policy provisions in the Senate bill and in any potential House language that might come before the conference committee. Local officials are encouraged to contact their Congressional representatives, particularly those who serve on the conference committee, to:

  • Urge a bipartisan agreement on a long-term transportation bill that supports local government authority and funding for public transit;

  • Support current law to maintain the current threshold of 50,000 in population for remaining a Metropolitan Planning Organization and the current share of funding for metropolitan areas at 62.5 percent rather than the 50 percent that is in the Senate bill;

  • Adopt a provision in the Senate bill that would provide a 15 percent share of funding for local bridges from the overall funding for states; and

  • Support “additional activities” in the Senate bill that would help revitalize Main Streets, make streets safer for walkers and bicyclists, and allow local governments direct access for communities to these funds.

Another key concern for local officials will be project streamlining provisions to speed up project reviews since both the House passed bill and S. 1813 contain streamlining provisions. NLC supports the streamlining environmental reviews, which maintain local control in the process. The Senate bill would streamline some environmental review provisions but still ensures for the public and local officials a meaningful voice on projects that impact communities. The House bill would limit opportunity for local review.

It is unclear when and how conferees will be able to find consensus, but Chairs Boxer and Mica expressed confidence that an agreement will be reached. The current extension of the program expires on June 30.

National, State, and Local Officials and Education Groups Push for ESEA Reauthorization
Neil Bomberg, bomberg@nlc.org, 202.626.3042


For months now, NLC and a coalition of national organizations representing states and local governments have been meeting with congressional leaders, congressional staff, and Administration officials to push for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind. As a part of that ongoing effort, last week, NLC and nine national organizations sent a joint letter to Congress urging it to complete the long overdue reauthorization.

The House Education and Workforce Committee and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee have passed bills, but the House and Senate need to move their respective bills to the floor for action if there is any chance of having reauthorization accomplished before the 112th Congress adjourns.

While the prospects for action this year are slim, flaws in the current law underscore the need for action now the groups tell Congress in the letter. The current law shifted too much control away from state and local elected officials, diluted the impact of federal resources, and relied on a method of identifying academic progress that focused on failure instead of rewarding excellence.

House Supports Level Funding for COPS
Mitchel Herckis, herckis@nlc.org, 202.626.3124


On Thursday, the House passed its FY 2013 spending bill for the Departments of Commerce and Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (H.R. 5326) by a vote of 247 to 163. While the bill that first came to the floor included a significant cut to threatened to the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, which provides grants to local governments to hire police officers and implement innovative modern policing approaches, a floor amendment that narrowly passed maintains the FY 2012 level of funding at $166 million.

The Obama Administration has threatened to veto the bill, citing heavy cuts to COPS grants as a major concern: “This reduced funding level would result in the loss of approximately 1,200 police hires/rehires, including veterans. In addition, some communities seriously impacted by crime would not be able to support enough police officers to effectively respond.”

In addition to level funding for COPS, the bill calls for a $22 million increase in Byrne Justice Assistance Grants and a $63 million increase in received Second Chance Grants.

But, the House efforts may be in vain. Few expect the the House and the Senate to complete the regular appropriations process by the end of the fiscal year, which is September 30. Instead, given the partisan disagreements over spending levels, rather than agree on individual appropriations bills, the odds are more favorable that Congress will end the year with a continuing spending resolution followed by more debates and threats of a government shutdown in a lame duck post-election session.

Regulatory Reforms Provide Cities with More Flexibility
Stephanie Crandall, crandall@nlc.org, 202.626.3030


Yesterday, the White House announced some of the actions agencies have taken to reduce regulatory burdens and eliminate unnecessary costs for local governments as a continuance of the Administration’s regulatory review initiative that began in January 2011. On a call with city leaders to announce the changes, Cass Sunstein, Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, highlighted five final rules that will save $6 billion over the next five years.

One rule will provide more flexibility to state and local governments by eliminating 46 regulations on traffic signs. For instance, cities and towns will be allowed to replace street signs after they wear out rather than by federally-imposed deadlines. Balancing costs with public safety concerns, the U.S. Department of Transportation has preserved a dozen other requirements for sign upgrades. Click here for more information about this and the other regulations.

Legislation Introduced in House to Increase Bank Qualified Limit
Lars Etzkorn, etzkorn@nlc.org, 202.626.3173


On Wednesday, Reps. Tom Reed (R-NY) and Richard Neal (D-MA) jointly introduced legislation to permanently raise the annual volume limit for bank-qualified bonds to $30 million, annually index the limit for inflation, and to extend availability for bank-qualified bonds to pooled-financings and 501(3) organizations. The Municipal Bond Market Support Act of 2012 (H.R. 5705) was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee for consideration.

NLC has long advocated for a permanent increase from the current $10 million limit and will join with other organizations representing issuers in advocating for its passage. Increasing the limit to $30 million would add liquidity to the market and help many small issuers place their bonds with community and commercial banks, avoiding fees associated with selling these bonds on the open market and thus finance their capital needs at a savings of taxpayer dollars.

Local Leaders Talk Transportation, Local Priorities on Capitol Hill
Stacey Levitt, levitt@nlc.org, 202.626.3196


As the transportation conference committee kicked off its deliberations earlier this week, two groups of local officials came to Washington to call for Congress to stop the quick fixes and finally pass a comprehensive, long-term program that rebuilds America’s roads and bridges, modernizes transit systems, and creates or saves good-paying jobs.

Nearly 30 Florida city leaders headed to Capitol Hill as part of the Florida League of Cities’ annual Federal Action Strike Team Fly-In, a two-day advocacy mission to Washington to lobby for continued federal support for the programs that enable communities to grow their economies and create jobs for residents, such as investments in transportation infrastructure and the Community Development Block Grant. In addition to a meeting at the White House with David Agnew, Director, Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, and federal agency leadership, the group met with several congressional representatives from the Sunshine State, including four members of the transportation conference committee: co-chair Rep. John Mica (R), Reps. Corrine Brown (D) and Steve Southerland (R), and Sen. Bill Nelson (D).

Also in Washington to lobby members of Congress were city officials from California who are leaders of NLC’s Asian Pacific American Municipal Officials (APAMO) group. In meetings with members of the California congressional delegation, Reps. Loretta Sanchez and Pete Stark, and staff for Reps. Zoe Lofgren and Mike Honda, the APAMO officials urged their congressional delegation to forego any more short-term extensions and support a multi-year transportation program that respects local authority and promotes sustainable outcomes.

Read more about the APAMO and Florida League of Cities meetings in Washington and NLC’s legislative priorities in the current edition of Nation’s Cities Weekly.

WEBINAR: Building a Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network
Mitchel Herckis, herckis@nlc.org, 202.626.3124


In February, Congress and the Administration seized an opportunity to take a major step forward by replacing the current patchwork of voice-only first responder communications with a modern nationwide 4G wireless network that will ensure our first responders receive the information they need when disaster strikes. Now it is up to federal, state and local leaders to work together to build and operate the network.

On June 6 at 2:00 PM (EDT), NLC will host a webinar, “Building a Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network: What Local Leaders Need to Know,” to help local leaders understand their role in building this network. Anna Gomez, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information for the U.S. Department of Commerce, will provide an overview of the path to creating the network and the role state and local governments will play in making the network a reality. As local first responders will be the primary users of this network, municipalities have a key role to play in the network's planning and construction.

In addition to NLC, the National Association of Counties, International City/County Managers Association, and the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors are co-hosting the webinar. Click here to register for the webinar. To learn more about the network, click here.

WEBINAR: Major Supreme Court Cases Affecting State and Local Governments
Lars Etzkorn, etzkorn@nlc.org, 202.626.3173


Legal experts are calling the current U.S. Supreme Court term one of the most important in terms of federalism, with the Court addressing questions of where does state and local authority end and federal power begin, and who allocates that division?

To help city leaders make sense of what's at stake, on July 19 from 1:00 to 2:15 PM (EDT), the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) is offering a FREE webinar covering the major cases from the Supreme Court’s current term affecting states and local governments. The webinar speakers are Paul Clement, who argued the Affordable Care Act (Health Care Reform law) and the Arizona immigration cases before the Court, and Patricia Millet, who argued three cases impacting states or local governments before the Court this term.


The SLLC files amicus curiae briefs in support of states and local governments in the U.S. Supreme Court, conducts moot courts for attorneys arguing before the Supreme Court, and provides other assistance to States and local governments in connection with Supreme Court litigation.

Space is limited, so reserve your spot now.

The White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs is Now on Twitter
Stacey Levitt, levitt@nlc.org, 202.626.3196

David Agnew, White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs (IGA), has joined Twitter, tweeting under the account name @DavidAgnew44. His presence on the social media site allows for immediate updates from the White House on issues of importance to cities; similarly, it provides local leaders also on the site with a direct line to the IGA office. Please be sure to send a welcoming tweet to our friend, and do not be shy about reminding him of ways in which the Obama administration can support communities using the hash tag #cities2012. Also, if you haven't already, be sure to follow and contact NLC on Twitter at @leagueofcities.

NLC Sends Congress Key Principles and Values for Cybersecurity
Mitchel Herckis, herckis@nlc.org, 202.626.3124

NLC joined state and local government organizations in sending a set of cybersecurity “key principles and values” to members of Congress who have played a central role in the ongoing debate surrounding legislation on the topic. While much of the public debate surrounding cybersecurity legislation has focused on the private sector and individual privacy concerns, state and local actors play a key role in securing public data and major critical infrastructure facilities.

The letter builds upon the NLC cybersecurity resolution passed at the 2011 Congress of Cities, urging Congress and the Administration to continue to foster intergovernmental collaboration to improve our defense against cyber threat at all levels. In addition, the letter emphasizes that NLC and its allies are opposed to unfunded mandates being imposed and want to ensure actions do not infringe on the civil liberties of our citizens.

Visit CitiesSpeak.org for more information on cybersecurity and cities.