By Carolyn Coleman
With action getting underway in the new Congress, NLC and city leaders are preparing to make their voices heard on a number of key legislative priorities that are likely to be considered this year. Under the leadership of NLC President Marie Lopez Rogers, mayor, Avondale, AZ, and NLC Executive Director Clarence Anthony, the organization finalized its priorities for 2013 in a leadership meeting in Washington, D.C., earlier this month.
In announcing the priorities, President Rogers underscored the need for Congress to get beyond the polarizing politics of partisan gridlock to move the country forward. "As council members and mayors, we face conflict every day. But, unlike Washington, we work together to find compromises and solutions to make our communities stronger. Congress must work to do the same."
In addition to renewing the call for Congress to use a balanced approach to reducing the federal deficit that preserves federal investments in hometown America, NLC's priorities reflect the ongoing threat federal inaction or misguided action could have on local communities.
Specifically, NLC is urging Congress and the Administration to:
• Protect Municipal Bonds. As the Administration and Congress look for revenue to reduce the deficit and fund programs, the federal income tax exemption provided to interest paid on state and municipal bonds (debt) is under threat. If the federal income tax exemption is eliminated or limited, states and localities will pay more to finance projects, leading to less infrastructure investment, fewer jobs, and greater burdens on citizens who will have to pay higher taxes and fees.
• Fix the Nation's Broken Immigration System. America's immigration system is failing our cities and our economic future. Local governments are caught in the middle of the national debate with no control over the regulation of immigration but with the responsibility for integrating immigrants into our communities and providing the services necessary for stable neighborhoods. It is time for Congress to acknowledge the economic vitality that immigration brings to the nation and adopt a reform policy that supports secure borders and a path to citizenship for the millions of immigrants currently contributing to our local and national economies. Comprehensive reform will provide cities and towns with the support needed to integrate immigrants into their communities and allow them to make both cultural and economic contributions to the nation.
• Protect Local Revenues. In 1992 the Supreme Court left state and local governments unable to enforce their sales tax laws on sales by out-of-state catalog and online sellers. As a result, billions of local tax dollars are lost each year by continuing to allow a tax-free platform to exist for purchases made via these venues.
Under the current tax loophole, while brick-and-mortar retailers collect sales taxes from customers who make purchases in their stores, many online and catalog retailers do not collect the same taxes - an unfair disadvantage to the shopkeepers on main streets, who must collect those taxes. Thus, if Congress acts upon its authority to regulate interstate commerce, state and local governments could collect taxes owed on Internet and mail order sales amounting to $23 billion.
In addition, NLC will continue to oppose unfunded mandates and federal efforts to preempt local authority to protect the health, safety, and welfare of local residents. Also, consistent with longstanding policy, the organization will support efforts to reduce gun violence.
To achieve the organization's 2013 legislative priorities, Anthony stressed the need for city officials to lobby their members of Congress while they are at home in their districts and during NLC's Congressional City Conference, March 9 - 13, 2013, in Washington, D.C.
"Over the last several weeks, NLC's officers, our federal relations team and I have been on the Hill and at the White House lobbying for our priorities," said Anthony. "It is clear that our voices need to be stronger than ever this year to make sure our interests are protected."
Details: For more information on NLC's Congressional City Conference, go to www.congressionalcityconference.org