NLC Policy Committees Kick Off Annual Policy Process at Congressional City Conference

April 1, 2013

By Leslie Wollack

NLC's seven policy committees kicked off their annual policy processes last month at the Congressional City Conference held in Washington, D.C. The committees met at the start of the conference to focus on key local priorities, including ways that federal programs and policy impact communities, how to improve local advocacy for programs at a time of budget cuts and support for innovative approaches to local government challenges. All seven steering committees will continue their discussions at a late June meeting in Washington, DC.


COMMUNITY AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT (CED)

The Community and Economic Development Committee (CED), chaired by Alderman Tony Thomas of Savannah, GA approved a work plan for 2013 focusing on two policy areas. First, CED will continue its work to improve federal policies that impact economic development and job creation at the local level. Among other things, CED will advocate for related NLC Resolutions approved in 2012 including, "Supporting Ports Maintenance and Modernization for Economic Development in Cities and Towns" and "Easing Legislative and Regulatory Impediments to Small Business Lending".

Secondly, CED will renew its focus on federal housing policy in anticipation of Congressional action that will likely reshape the way local governments approach housing and neighborhood development. Among the issues Congress is expected to consider before the end of President Obama's second term are whether the federal government will maintain a stake in mortgage finance through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac or another mechanism; proposals to alter or replace the mortgage interest deduction to increase funding for federal housing programs; and questions over how to meet the rising costs of federal housing benefits for needy families.

During the meeting, the committee heard from a staff representative of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), who asked for NLC's endorsement for the Senator's bill, "The Made in America Manufacturing Act." The bill would provide incentive grants for retooling or retrofitting manufacturing facilities to improve employment opportunities at the regional level. CED agreed to include consideration of the bill on their agenda. The committee was also given a thorough overview of current federal housing policy and potential opportunities for improvement by staff from the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials

ENERGY, ENVIRONMENT AND NATURAL RESOURCES (EENR)

At the Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee (EENR) meeting led by Chair Matthew Appelbaum, mayor of Boulder, CO, committee members learned about NLC's 2013 legislative priorities and specific energy and environment related legislative and administrative anticipated priorities for 2013.

The EENR and Transportation Infrastructure and Services (TIS) Committee met jointly for a portion of the meeting to discuss advocating for local transportation programs. Speakers Jason Jordan, Director for the Center for Transportation Excellence and Scott Bogren, Director of Communications at the Community Transportation Association of America discussed the need for a new way to talk about transit to focus on its value to communities. Both Bogren and Jordan highlighted the 68 percent success rate of recent local ballot initiatives to fund transportation in 2012. The two committees also heard an update from Leanne Redden, Senior Deputy Executive Director for the Regional Transportation Authority of Chicago, on a new coalition formed to support federal transit funding. www.GettingAmericaToWork.com

After the joint meeting and a review of the committee's work in 2012, NLC staff gave an outlook for energy and environment legislative and administrative priorities. Throughout the year, with regard to energy, NLC will be supporting energy efficiency, renewable energy, community resiliency and climate change legislation. With regard to water infrastructure, NLC will support alternative mechanisms for funding water infrastructure legislation; promote the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) integrated planning framework for municipal wastewater and stormwater and participate in an affordability dialogue with EPA; and monitor EPA rulemakings on stormwater, Waters of the U.S. and others. Finally, with regard to the Farm Bill, NLC will support healthy food provisions in the reauthorization of the Farm Bill.

Following the legislative briefing and outlook for 2013, committee members spent the remainder of the meeting discussing possible policy and advocacy topics for 2013. This year, the EENR Committee will focus on issues related to climate change adaptation and resilience, with a specific focus on water and transportation infrastructure systems, ecosystem restoration, and transportation alternatives that reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

Building off of the work the committee did last year, the EENR committee will continue to look for ways to partner with other committees and continue to explore the adaptation and reliance issue as it relates to water and transportation infrastructure, land use and economic development, and ecosystem restoration after an extreme weather event, such as Hurricane Sandy.

On the issue of transportation, the committee will work jointly with the TIS Committee on advocacy related to the implementation of MAP-21, the current transportation bill which expires September 2014, and its reauthorization. EENR Committee members are particularly interested in engaging on overlapping issues related to climate change and transportation, and supporting transportation alternatives that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Finally, committee members also received an update on the Sustainable Cities Institute (SCI; www.sustainablecitiesinstitute.org) activities. Committee members discussed ways they can support the work of SCI through the sharing of best practices and offering direct feedback and review of information on the website.

TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE SERVICES (TIS)

Topping a fast paced agenda, the Transportation and Infrastructure Services (TIS) Committee, chaired by Councilmember Ron Roberts of Temecula, CA, welcomed Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo-former mayor of Riverdale, Illinois-to focus on key rail issues. Szabo noted the efficiency of the nation's passenger rail. Amtrak, the nation's passenger rail system operates in 43 states and has improved it fare box recovery to 88 percent. Also key to the nation's transportation network is the multimodal system and individual modes that fit together and work together to move goods and people. As the U.S. population expands, the U.S. freight system will be called upon to meet the demands of a larger population. Between 2010 and 2035, the system will experience a 22 percent increase in the total amount of tonnage it moves. By 2050, with an estimated 420 million people in the U.S., the increase is projected to be 35 percent, he said.

Szabo also addressed the issue of railroad quiet zones which has plagued communities that receive heavy freight rail traffic. Under the Train Horn Rule, locomotive engineers must begin to sound train horns at least 15 seconds, and no more than 20 seconds, in advance of all public grade crossings. More information is available at: http://www.fra.dot.gov/Page/P0104.

In addition to the joint meeting with EENR focused on transit successes at the ballot box and transit's contributions to local jobs and economic vitality (highlighted in EENR section above), Jason Jordan of the Center for Transportation Excellence focused on some key elements of success for recent transportation ballot initiatives. These include having a specific plan for the proposed funding which demonstrates the value and benefits and has transparency to let citizens know what their new taxes will buy. In addition, Jordan stressed that successful initiatives have a strong coalition of organizations, an effective champion, and must be run like a campaign with good messaging and networks to get voters to the polls.

Former Mayor John Robert Smith speaking on behalf of the Transportation for America campaign (http://t4america.org/webinars/) gave a presentation on the new MAP-21 transportation program and how to use the new provisions to support local transportation programs. In line with the theme of the day, Mayor Smith noted the importance of being an active participant in transportation discussions. Remarking that "if you are not at the table, you are on the menu," Smith noted the many changes in MAP-21 that limit local decision making. Because of this, he stressed to members that it is even more important to understand the new programs, get involved in their communities, and work with their states' Departments of Transportation to ensure communities can take full advantage of the new transportation law.

For the coming year, TIS will continue to monitor the implementation of MAP-21 and keep local officials informed on implications for local programs. The committee also will focus on railroad issues including pedestrian safety concerns, quiet zones and federal support for Amtrak. TIS will work with EENR and prepare for the upcoming discussion of a new transportation program to succeed MAP-21 which will expire next year.

FINANCE, ADMINISTRATION AND INTERGOVERNMENTAL RELATIONS (FAIR)

The Finance, Administration and Intergovernmental Relations (FAIR) Policy and Advocacy Committee met with the Information Technology and Communications (ITC) Policy and Advocacy Committee to adopt overarching principles on communications taxes. This year, a working group from the two committees will consider how to memorialize these principles in NLC's National Municipal Policy.

The FAIR Committee then heard from panelists on two policy issues: voter identification and the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). NLC constituency groups referred resolutions on these topics to the FAIR Committee last year, but the Committee tabled them for further study. Following discussion on these issues, the Committee adopted a resolution affirming the freedom to marry for same-sex couples and calling for the repeal of DOMA.

With two of NLC's top legislative priorities focused on municipal finance, the FAIR Committee will continue its advocacy on tax issues important to cities, including the preservation of the tax exemption on municipal bonds and the passage of the Marketplace Fairness Act.

INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND COMMUNICATION (ITC)

The ITC Committee also met jointly with the Public Safety and Crime Prevention (PSCP) Policy and Advocacy Committee to consider the impact of cybersecurity on local governments before hearing from an FCC representative and an AT&T corporate partner on emerging issues in telecommunications. In addition its work with other committees, the ITC Committee will study issues related to rights-of-way and broadband deployment.

PUBLIC SAFETY AND CRIME PREVENTION (PSCP)

The Public Safety and Crime Prevention meeting met under the leadership of its chair Pete Constant, councilmember, City of San Jose, California. The meeting focused on two major ongoing issues: cyber security and human trafficking. The meeting included presentations by representatives from the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Homeland Security, but included substantial discussions about gun violence and how the nation should respond to the problem and federal reimbursements for emergency medical services. The committee also discussed in great detail the Marketplace Fairness Act, and how the members of the committee might support NLC's efforts to pass this important piece of legislation.

The steering committee spent time focusing on its upcoming meetings. They indicated their support for participating in the upcoming, joint steering committee meeting in June and also a September meeting that would be hosted by various governments in the Phoenix metropolitan area. The second meeting was strongly supported as a way to ensure that the committee is able to conduct all of its business in a timely and effective way prior to the meeting of the full Committee in November in Seattle.

HUMAN DEVELOPMENT (HD)

The Human Development Committee meeting was chaired by Dot LaMarche, vice mayor, Town of Farragut, TN. It began with presentations on implementation of the Affordable Care Act, by Rick Ramsey and Paul Campbell from corporate partner United HealthCare, a presentation on aging and the ways in which cities and towns can help their aging populations by Patrick Willard from AARP, a presentation on the importance of Census data to cities and towns by Veronique Pluviose, of the U.S. Census Bureau, and a presentation on how the U.S. Department of Homeland Security can assist cities and towns dealing with immigration issues.

The committee focused on a wide range of issues including: comprehensive immigration reform, protecting municipal bonds tax exempt status, marketplace fairness, reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act, and reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The committee, and subsequently, the steering committee, agreed that members would focus on advocating for these issues to Congress and the Administration on an as-needed basis. The steering committee also agreed to craft a resolution calling on Congress to set aside partisan differences and to work toward solutions that will benefit the nation as a whole.

The steering committee meeting concluded with agreement that the committee would participate in the June joint steering committee meeting and with a second steering committee in the fall.

LET'S MOVE CITIES, TOWNS AND COUNTIES

Each of the committees also received an update on the Let's Move Cities, Towns and Counties initiative Campaign (LMCTC) which provides a framework for local elected officials to take action to prevent childhood obesity. LMCTC is harnessing the power of local elected officials to reverse America's childhood obesity epidemic and provides local officials with targeted assistance to improve access to healthy affordable food and increase opportunities for physical activity. You can learn more about the initiative, and you can also sign up by visiting the initiative's website: www.HealthyCommunitiesHealthyFuture.org.

Opportunities to Get Involved

NLC's annual policy process begins in March and culminates at the annual business meeting at the Congress of Cities in Seattle, Washington, when the membership debates policy recommendations made by the individual committees. If you are interested in being part of the policy debate, contact your state municipal league to get involved. Information on the work of the committees can be found at www.nlc.org.