Federal Advocacy Update

In this issue:

NLC President and Executive Director Take To Capitol Hill To Applaud Transportation Efforts

Matthew Colvin, 202.626.3076

NLC President Melodee Colbert Kean discusses transportation policy with Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton on Capitol Hill

Shortly after passage of the FAST Act, a $305 billion multi-year surface transportation bill, NLC President Melodee Colbert Kean and NLC Executive Director Clarence Anthony went to Capitol Hill to thank lawmakers for their monumental efforts in moving this bill across the finish line. In meetings with Senator Barbara Boxer, and Representatives Peter DeFazio and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton - each a major player in transportation policy on Capitol Hill - President Colbert Kean was able to share her unique perspective as the owner of a small business along Route 66, an iconic symbol of American road-building. 

Congress Clears Legislation to Fund the Government in 2016

Federal Advocacy Staff

Just in time for Christmas, Congress passed an omnibus spending bill that will keep the federal government open for business and federal programs funded through the end of September 2016. Moreover, the bill adheres to spending caps above the levels required by sequestration. On both counts, local advocacy against wasteful government shutdowns and the arbitrary spending limits under sequestration made a difference. Good news is that the bill largely maintains existing funding levels or provides for modest increases for programs important to local governments.

The House and the Senate also reached agreement on a tax extenders package, the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015, which renews and makes permanent certain tax incentives, some of which are high priority for local governments. The bill may ultimately serve as a starting point for more comprehensive tax reform next year.

The House has already cleared the tax extender bill, and the Senate is poised to do the same before adjourning for the year. The President is expect to sign both pieces of legislation.
In terms of programs important to local government, the bill includes:

U.S. Department of Transportation

  • $500 million for TIGER Discretionary Grants (equal to last year)
  • $2.2 billion for New Starts grants and full funding for local small starts grants.
  • Full funding for programs authorized by the FAST Act including:
    • An additional $870 million over prior authorization levels for transit programs
    • An additional $52 million over prior authorization levels for rail projects 
    • An additional $50 million for rail safety projects

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

  • $3 billion for the Community Development Block Grant Program (equal to last year)
  • $950 million for the HOME Investment Partnership Program ($50 million more than last year)
  • $125 million for Choice Neighborhoods Grants ($45 million more than last year)
  • $26.9 billion for Public Housing and Rental Assistance Programs ($447 million more than last year)
  • $2.25 billion for Homeless Assistance Grants ($115 million more than last year)

U.S. Department of Justice

  • $2.5 billion for state and local grant programs ($174 million more than last year), including $187 million for COPS hiring and rehiring program; $70 million for programs to improve police-community relations, including $22.5 million for the purchase of body-worn cameras for police; and $476 million for Byrne Justice Assistance Grants.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security

  • $2.5 billion for first responder grants ($10 million more than last year), including $1.5 billion for state and local grants; $690 million for Assistance to Firefighter Grants; $350 million for Emergency Management Performance Grants; $50 million for programs coordinated by FEMA to help states and local communities prepare for, prevent, and respond to emergent threats from violent extremism and from complex, coordinated terrorist attacks.

U.S. Department of Energy

  • $2.073 billion for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy ($160 million more than last year)

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

  • $1.394 billion for the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund ($50 million below last year)
  • $863 million for Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund ($43 million below last year)
  • $80 million for Brownfields (equal to last year)
  • $1.088 billion for Superfund projects (equal to last year)
  • No new funding for WIFIA, the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act

Policy riders impacting cities and towns:

  • Enacts a one-year extension of the Internet Tax Freedom Act 
  • Retains two federal restrictions on eminent domain through 2016. First, eminent domain must continue to be employed for a public use in projects supported by federal funds - economic development projects that primarily benefit private entities remain ineligible. Second, federal mortgage finance programs continue to be prohibited for use in homeowner assistance programs that employ eminent domain to seize mortgages.

The tax extender bill includes the following provisions important to local governments:

  • Creates permanent parity between the transit and vanpool commuter fringe benefit and the parking benefit at $255 per-month, giving certainty and relief to workers who do not commute by car. 
  • Creates a permanent extension of the deductibility of State and local general sales taxes -extends the option to claim an itemized deduction for State and local general sales taxes in lieu of an itemized deduction for State and local income taxes.
  • Makes permanent the 9 percent Low-Income Housing Tax Credit rate.
  • Extends the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) for five years.

Cities Bring Powerful Voice to Paris Climate Change Negotiations

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101


Cities and the National League of Cities were at center stage during the two week U.N. Conference of Parties (COP21) climate change negotiations earlier this month, giving a sense of urgency, optimism and resolve to the high-level negotiations taking place at Le Bourget.

At a first-ever Climate Summit for Local Leaders forum to highlight local leadership on climate change, hosted by Anne Hildalgo, Mayor of the City of Paris and Michael Bloomberg, U.N. Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change, Bloomberg declared that it was the "Largest gathering of global mayors and local leaders ever, the first to coincide with the U.N. meeting of nations, and we're making history today. But we are not here to make history, we are here to preserve the future."

History was in fact made last week in Paris when 196 countries signed an agreement that establishes a long-term global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"With the final COP21 agreement, the world has come together to commit to aggressively act on climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The unanimous agreement to hold global temperature rise to below two degrees Celsius can only be achieved with strong actions and commitments from cities, as well as the private sector and other sub-national actors, in support of our national goals and beyond," said NLC CEO and Executive Director Clarence E. Anthony. "We applaud President Obama and negotiators from around the world for pursuing an agreement that is ambitious and includes an accountable and transparent review process."

NLC, in partnership with ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability, the U.S. Green Building Council and the World Wildlife fund, sent a delegation of 11 local elected officials to Paris to participate in COP21. The NLC delegation-representing the largest group of U.S. local officials attending COP21-met with leaders from around the world, including Mayor Hildalgo, Jane Hartley, U.S. Ambassador to France, Tom Vilsack, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Sally Jewell, Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, John Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, a delegation of ten U.S. senators, and representatives from the White House Council on Environmental Quality. For a full roundup of the group's Paris activities, including interviews with a number of mayors in the delegation, click here. To read highlights of the Climate Agreement, click here.

Tax Ban Consideration Put Off Until Next Year

Priya Ghosh Ahola, 202.626.3015

Late last week, legislation NLC opposes, the Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act (PITFA) was inserted at the eleventh hour into the conference report of an unrelated Customs reauthorization bill. The legislation makes permanent the temporary moratorium on local government's ability to impose internet access taxes. NLC lobbied Senators to strip the provision from the conference report or to pair it with legislation that would permit local governments to collect taxes on internet or on line sales (e-fairness), a top legislative priority for cities.

We believe we now have the votes to strip PITFA from the report, however, a vote on it has been delayed until next year.

NLC President Announces Leadership Appointments

National League of Cities (NLC) President Melodee Colbert Kean, councilmember, Joplin, Missouri, has announced her leadership and membership appointments for the 2016 NLC Federal Advocacy Committees. All members appointed by President Colbert Kean will serve a one-year term and will work in collaboration with NLC to develop NLC's National Municipal Policy and advocate for cities and towns across America.

The 2016 Committee Chairs and Vice Chairs are:

Community and Economic Development

  • Chair - Craig Thurmond, mayor, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma 
  • Vice Chair - Gyna Bivens, councilmember, Fort Worth, Texas
  • Vice Chair - Gerri Schroder, councilwoman, Henderson, Nevada

Energy, Environment and Natural Resources

  • Chair - Ron Nirenberg, councilmember, San Antonio, Texas
  • Vice Chair - Sal Panto, Jr., mayor, Easton, Pennsylvania
  • Vice Chair - Cynthia Pratt, deputy mayor, Lacey, Washington

Finance, Administration and Intergovernmental Relations

  • Chair - Darius Brown, councilmember, Wilmington, Delaware
  • Vice Chair - John Kinnaird, councilmember, Waco, Texas
  • Vice Chair - Sue Osborn, mayor, Fenton, Michigan

Human Development

  • Chair - Leta Mach, councilmember, Greenbelt, Maryland
  • Vice Chair - Gregory Pettis, mayor pro tempore, Cathedral City, California
  • Vice Chair - Angelia Washington, councilmember, Jackson, North Carolina

Information Technology and Communications

  • Chair - Sheri Capehart, mayor pro tempore, Arlington, Texas
  • Vice Chair - Bob Fifer, mayor pro tempore, Arvada, Colorado
  • Vice Chair - David Luna, councilmember, Mesa, Arizona

Public Safety and Crime Prevention

  • Chair - Anthony Anderson, deputy mayor, SeaTac, Washington
  • Vice Chair - Barbara, Cleland, councilmember, Aurora, Colorado
  • Vice Chair - Joel Price, mayor, Thousand Oaks, California

Transportation and Infrastructure Services

  • Chair - Patrick Wojahn, mayor, College Park, Maryland
  • Vice Chair - Greg Evans, councilmember, Eugene, Oregon
  • Vice Chair - Pam O'Connor, councilmember, Santa Monica, California

President Colbert Kean is looking forward to engaging with the newly appointed Committee members. The first opportunity for engagement will be at the Congressional Cities Conference, March 5-9 in Washington, D.C. To obtain important conference related information including a draft conference schedule and registration information please click here.

NLC congratulates all the city leaders on their appointments!

City Leaders Call for Cooperation to Close Digital Divide

Angelina Panettieri, 202.626.3196

Andy Huckaba, Councilmember, Lenexa, Kansas speaks about improving access to broadband

This month, NLC and city leaders joined Senator Cory Booker (NJ), former mayor of Newark, to call for stronger partnership between all levels of government to increase access to broadband internet and close the digital divide. NLC, in partnership with the Brookings Institution, hosted a public discussion of the ways in which a new federalist framework might support cities working to build out their networks autonomously, while also meeting national economic objectives.

NLC Executive Director Clarence Anthony kicked off the event by stressing the importance of broadband access in the 21st century economy, and challenged all sectors of government, the private sector and academia to close the digital divide.

Senator Cory Booker expressed the important role of cities as innovative hubs, and his aspiration to "unleash the innovation of mayors by removing bureaucratic barriers." These sentiments were echoed by the local government leaders and policy experts who sat on the subsequent panel. Council member Andy Huckaba, Lenexa, Kansas, identified the quality of life of the residents he serves as one of his top priorities as an elected official. Broadband access, he argued, is a way to help achieve and improve that. Ted Smith, Chief of Civic Innovation, Louisville Metro Government, emphasized the role of federal partners in communicating with cities, asserting that "we need federal harmonization so communities know what broadband programs are available."

In conjunction with the event, Brookings Institution released a report investigating the state of the digital divide in America's cities. The report and a full video of the event can both be accessed online.

Tell the White House How Your City Advances Computer Science Education

Angelina Panettieri, 202.626.3196

Building on the announcement of the TechHire initiative during NLC's Congress of Cities in March, the White House is looking for cities that are carrying out or planning efforts to expand access to computer science education in their schools. Computational literacy" -being able to code, script, design, program, debug, and understand computer science-is rapidly emerging as an essential skill for today's students. Many jobs in the 21st century will require the type of problem-solving ability that is advanced by training in computer science. However, in the United States, only 26 states allow students to count computer science toward high school graduation. In most U.S. schools, computer science is offered as an elective or not available at all.

If your city is currently working to bring computer science education into the schools, or if you are planning new efforts or partnerships with private business to expand computer science education, fill out this form to get involved with the new initiative.

Trump Talks Infrastructure, but City Issues Still at the Fringe

Devon Hawkin-Anderson, 202.626.3051

The nine leading Republican candidates took the stage this week in Las Vegas, Nevada, this week to debate for the last time before the February Iowa caucuses. In the aftermath of recent terror attacks abroad and on home soil, national security, surveillance, immigration, and personal rivalries took precedence during the two-hour primetime event.

While national security and related issues are worth considerable time and attention on the debate stage, so are the domestic topics most affecting America's cities-public safety, infrastructure, and the economy. These issues are central to the 80 percent of Americans who live in cities. Refocusing national attention on cities as hubs of culture, innovation, and economic activity will provide the catalyst that powers the US well into the 21st century.

Read more about the debate in NLC's Cities Speak blog.

DOT Announces Smart City Funding Challenge

Angelina Panettieri, 202.626.3196

The U.S. Department of Transportation has announced a new "Smart City Challenge" to provide one mid-sized city with $50 million in funding for a technologically innovative transportation program. Secretary Anthony Foxx, when announcing the program, said the challenge seeks to identify the city "that develops the most innovative, most forward-thinking plan to harness technology and reimagine how people move." Secretary Foxx suggested electric vehicles, smart grid roadways, or connected vehicles could be part of proposals.

Candidate cities must be mid-sized, with populations of roughly 200,000 to 800,000 people, with an existing public transit system, and the ability to implement their plans. Applicants must be municipalities, but can partner with local organizations, such as universities. Grant funding is being provided jointly by the Federal Highway Administration's joint programs office and Vulcan, Inc., an investment firm. The winning city will not be required to provide matching funds.

Applications for the Smart City Challenge are due by February 7. Finalists will be announced in March, and the winning city will be announced in June 2016. For more information about the Smart City Challenge, including DOT's Notice of Funding Opportunity, visit https://www.transportation.gov/smartcity.