Federal Advocacy Update

In this issue: 

NLC Announces 2016 Federal Priorities

Carolyn Coleman , 202.626.3123

Nearly seven years after the Great Recession, many cities are reporting improvement in their local economies.  Job growth, increasing residential property values, and retail sector health are helping to put cities on a stronger fiscal footing.  Despite cuts in federal and state aid, cities continue to raise the bar, increasing citizen engagement and government transparency and improving the quality and accessibility of city services.

However, we know there is another side to this story. While we see an economy that continues to outpace the rest of the world in innovation and entrepreneurship, we also see one weighed down by slow productivity growth and stagnant wages. Critical infrastructure across the nation is in a state of neglect and disrepair. Rising home prices are helping replenish local tax bases, but at the same time exacerbate the affordable housing crisis.
NLC's 2016 federal priorities reflect important issues around the economy, infrastructure and public safety, providing a framework to empower cities to address the challenges we face and move our nation forward. Specifically, NLC calls on Congress and the administration to:

  • Close the online sales tax loophole. Today's marketplace offers more choices than ever. But simply put, the playing field isn't level for all sellers - and states and localities are unable to collect more than a fraction of the revenue that's owed. Over 23 billion dollars a year are lost. That's why we're calling on Congress to close the online sales tax loophole by passing e-fairness legislation.
  • Protect the tax exemption for municipal bonds. Protecting the tax exemption for municipal bonds is critical to local government's ability to respond to community needs. If the tax exemption is eliminated or limited, states and localities will be forced to pay more to finance projects, leading to less infrastructure investment, fewer jobs and a greater burden on local residents in the form of higher taxes and fees.
  • Reform federal sentencing. We urge Congress to reform the federal criminal justice system to allow for greater flexibility in sentencing and increased resources to support re-entry programs.  Reentry programs tailored to the specific needs of our communities are essential to reduce recidivism and bolster the success of ex-offenders. We call on Congress to pass the "Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015" (S. 2123), which adjusts prison sentences for certain non-violent drug offenders, targets violent criminals, and supports recidivism reduction programs. We also support the Second Chance Reauthorization Act (S. 1513/H.R. 3406), which would provide resources to local governments to improve outcomes for individuals returning to communities reducing in recidivism rates.
  • Fix the EPA brownfields program. Many local governments, out of necessity, take ownership of brownfields properties. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Brownfields Program provides grants and technical assistance to communities and other stakeholders, giving them the resources they need to prevent, assess, safely clean up, and sustainably reuse brownfields. The EPA Brownfields Program is vital for local governments in aiding their redevelopment efforts and supporting the productive reuse of property which otherwise remains a blight on the community. To strengthen the program, NLC calls on Congress to expand liability protections for local governments that acquire contaminated brownfields sites but had no involvement in the contamination, as well as increase the assistance available under the program.

In addition to these priorities, we will monitor and advocate for the interests of cities on other important issues. In 2016, NLC will work to:

  • Revise the "Waters of the U.S." rule. We support congressional efforts to direct the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to create a more open and transparent rulemaking process with input from all levels of government. Cities need federal regulators to conduct a comprehensive regulatory and economic impact analysis on how the rule will impact each Clean Water Act program. We also support revising the rule in a way that addresses lingering concerns regarding the certainty and clarity of the terms of the existing rule.
  • Ensure swift implementation of the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. The legislation may have passed, but the work has just begun. We are working closely with the U.S. Department of Transportation to ensure the FAST Act provides local leaders with the greatest possible control over how federal funding is spent in their regions.

10 Years of Roberts Court for State and Local Government Webinar

Angelina Panetierri , 202.626.3196

In cases big and small, on issues ranging from race to religion, federalism to free speech, many, if not most, Roberts Court decisions have affected states and local governments. As NLC and the rest of the country anticipate a new Supreme Court appointment, now is the ideal time to reflect on the impact of the Roberts Court on state and local government over the last 10 years.

Join Tom Goldstein of SCOTUSblog and Goldstein & Russell, Adam Liptak of the New York Times, and David Savage of the Los Angeles Times, in a discussion about the decade-long history of the Robert Court and what might lie in store for states and local governments. To register for the webinar, click here.

When: Wednesday, March 16th
Time: 2 PM EST
Registration Link: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/7704599405402321922

Download the webinar handouts:

 *The webinar is FREE.  Continuing legal education (CLE) credit is not offered.

Tenth Circuit Upholds Colorado's Effort to Collect Use Tax on Remote Sales

Carolyn Coleman, 202.626.3123

In Direct Marketing Association v. Brohl, the Tenth Circuit held that a Colorado law requiring remote sellers to inform Colorado purchasers annually of their purchases and send the same information to the Colorado Department of Revenue is constitutional.

To improve tax collection, in 2010 the Colorado legislature began requiring remote sellers to inform Colorado purchasers annually of their purchases and send the same information to the Colorado Department of Revenue. The Direct Marketing Association sued Colorado in federal court claiming the law was unconstitutional under Quill v. North Dakota decided in 1992. In Quill, the Supreme Court held that states cannot require retailers with no in-state physical presence to collect use tax.  NLC filed an amicus brief in the Tenth Circuit arguing that Quill does not apply to the Colorado law and that the notice and reporting requirements are not discriminatory.

The Tenth Circuit agreed with NLC concluding that Quill “applies narrowly to sales and use tax collection.” The Tenth Circuit further concluded the Colorado law does not discriminate against interstate commerce because DMA was unable to point to any evidence that the notice and reporting requirements imposed on out-of-state retailers are more burdensome than the sales tax collection and administration requirements imposed on in-state retailers.
In its opinion, the Tenth Circuit cited NLC’s brief, which provided an estimate of the very low rate of use tax compliance, and quoted Justice Kennedy’s recent criticism of Quill.  At least three other states have similar notice and reporting requirements (Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Vermont).  Perhaps this is one more step towards e-fairness.  

Cities, Counties Announce Joint Task Force on the Opioid Epidemic

Yucel Ors, 202.626.3124

Earlier this week, the National League of Cities (NLC) and the National Association of Counties (NACo) announced the creation of a joint national task force to address our nation's opioid and heroin abuse crisis. The City-County National Task Force on Opioid Abuse, comprised of city and county leaders from across the country, aims to enhance awareness, facilitate peer exchanges and identify sound policy and partnership solutions.

"The rapidly increasing number of deaths from heroin overdoses and other opioids has reached epidemic proportions," said National League of Cities President Melodee Colbert-Kean, councilmember, Joplin, Mo. "The National League of Cities is pleased to partner with county leaders at NACo to provide coordinated, intergovernmental solutions to this tragic problem."

Counties and cities have recognized that the opioid and heroin abuse crisis has reached epidemic proportions. Drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, with more than 47,000 lethal drug overdoses in 2014. This epidemic is driven largely by overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers (18,893) and deaths related to heroin (10,574). There were 259 million opioid prescriptions written in 2012, which is more than enough to give a pill bottle to every American adult.

Building on the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy's four-pillared plan to reduce prescription drug abuse, the task force will take the following actions:

  • Conduct at least two national dialogues where city and county elected leaders will explore the comprehensive issues related to this crisis, growing trends and proven responses
  • Develop educational opportunities for counties and cities through special forums, educational workshops, webinars and other opportunities, and
  • Publish a national summary report of city-county collaboration, focusing on community prevention and overdose response, effective treatment options, public safety enforcement and supply reduction.

U.S. Department of Transportation Announces $500 Million in TIGER Funding

Matthew Colvin, 202.626.3176

Last Tuesday, DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx announced $500 million will be made available for transportation projects across the country under an eighth round of the highly successful Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) competitive grant program.

Like the first seven rounds, FY 2016 TIGER discretionary grants will fund capital investments in surface transportation infrastructure and will be awarded on a competitive basis for projects that will have a significant impact on the nation, a metropolitan area, or a region.

According to Sec. Foxx, the 2016 TIGER grant program will continue to make transformative surface transportation investments by providing improvements over existing conditions.  The grant program will focus on capital projects that generate economic development and improve access to reliable, safe and affordable transportation for communities, both urban and rural.

Since 2009, TIGER has provided nearly $4.6 billion to 381 projects in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, including 134 projects to support rural and tribal communities.  Demand has been overwhelming, and during the previous seven rounds, the Department received more than 6,700 applications requesting more than $134 billion for transportation projects across the country.

TIGER funding is provided in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016, signed by President Obama on December 18, 2015.  Applications are due April 29, 2016.  For more information on how to apply, please visit www.transportation.gov/TIGER.  

Federal Advocacy Committees Set to Meet at NLC’s Conference

Federal Advocacy Staff

During next week's Congressional Cities Conference (CCC) in Washington, D.C., NLC’s Federal Advocacy Committees will meet to discuss and debate federal policy on a wide variety of issues that matter to cities and towns and lead NLC’s advocacy on its federal agenda.  The meetings will take place on Sunday, March 6, 1:30 – 4:30 p.m.  For information regarding each meeting, click on the Committee name below.