Federal Advocacy Update

In this issue:

NLC Urges Congress to Protect Local Gains in Transportation Bill

Matthew Colvin, 202.626.3176

Earlier this month, leaders in the House and Senate appointed conferees to hammer out a compromise between the two chambers' proposed long-term transportation bills. Though both the House Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform (STRR) Act of 2015 and the Senate Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy (DRIVE) Act put forward similar plans for our nation's surface transportation programs - representing the first real shot at a long-term transportation bill since 2005 - law makers will have to reconcile a number of differences between the two versions before they can send it to the floor for a final vote. Chief among those for cities include an overall increase in federal dollars being put in the hands of local decision-makers in the House plan, as well as a Senate provision that would ensure full local control over the population allocation of Transportation Alternatives Program funds. Possibly further complicating their task, some members are also pushing to reduce the length of the bill from six to five years in order to increase overall annual funding.

To buy time while they iron out their differences, Congress passed what will hopefully be their final short-term extension, which will maintain funding for transportation programs through December 4, 2015. As the conference committee formally began their work this week, leadership from both the Senate and House expressed confidence that this extra flexibility will ensure a bipartisan deal is reached before the end of the year. In the meantime, NLC President Melodee Colbert-Kean urged conference committee leadership to include a number of key local priorities in the final agreement, including:

  • Greater local control over Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) funding;
  • Returning a larger percentage of Surface Transportation Program (STP) dollars to local decision-makers, which had been greatly reduced in the prior transportation bill;
  • Ensuring locally controlled bridges are eligible to receive federal dollars; and
  • Ensuring MPOs have the financial resources they need to help plan and fund a 21st century transportation network.

With only about a week of legislative session left before their December 4 deadline, now is a perfect time to reach out to your congressional delegation and show support for long-term funding, greater local control of federal transportation dollars, and to ensure local decision-makers are provided with the tools and resources they need to drive growth and opportunity on our nation's transportation network.

NLC Provides Guidance to Congress on Funding Priorities for FY2016

Mike Wallace, 202.626.3025

Last month, Congress and the President reached agreement on a new two-year budget deal that raises federal spending levels above the austere budget caps mandated by sequestration over the next two years. Under the terms of the agreement, an increase of $50 billion in funding is authorized for fiscal year 2016, split evenly between defense and nondefense programs, and an increase of $30 billion is authorized for fiscal year 2017.

Local governments have long been concerned with sequestration due to the significant reduction it called for in federal investments in cities and towns. Many programs important to cities faced deep cuts under the sequester caps, including TIGER transportation grants that faced a cut from $500 million to $100 million, and HOME affordable housing grant programs that would have been gutted from $900 million to $66 million.

NLC is urging Congress to use the additional $25 billion for domestic discretionary programs in FY 2016 to restore funding to these and other programs targeted for cuts as a result of sequestration. Specifically, NLC is calling on Congress to make the following programs priorities to receive additional funding:

  • Technical assistance programs within the Department of Justice that assist hundreds of cities and towns in developing evidenced-based community policing programs that build trust, improve community relations, and reduce racial tensions and crime rates;
  • Programs that help finance large infrastructure projects important to cities and towns ranging from transportation to clean water to broadband deployment;
  • Federal community and economic development programs including the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program and the HOME Investment Partnership program, which help cities connect distressed neighborhoods to opportunities for economic improvement;
  • Workforce development and training programs that provide basic skills training and opportunities to upgrade skills to adjust to changing job market demands; and 
  • Universal pre-K, afterschool programs and other initiatives that ensure that all children and youth have an opportunity to graduate from high school prepared for post-secondary education or employment;

To avoid a government shutdown and keep these programs funded, Congress must reach agreement on a FY 2016 spending measure by December 11.

NLC Urges Senate to Reject Sanctuary Cities Amendment

Yucel Ors, 202.262.3124

Last July, during the mark-up of the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) appropriations bill (HR 3128), the House Appropriations Committee adopted an amendment that would block so-called "sanctuary cities" from receiving DHS grants.

With the December 11 deadline quickly approaching for Congress to pass a FY 2016 spending package, NLC is urging Senate appropriators to reject the House amendment in any measures it considers.

In a letter to the Senate, NLC highlighted the importance of the DHS funds to local governments especially at a time when there are heightened concerns about terrorism and violent extremism at home and abroad. These grant programs provide critical resources that fund intelligence fusion centers, interoperable communications systems, regional planning efforts, and capabilities to respond to mass casualty incidents.

Instead of punitive measures like the amendment the House adopted, NLC continues to call on Congress to fix the nation's broken immigration system by passing comprehensive immigration reform.

"Waters of the U.S." Sees Senate Action, But Rule Remains in Limbo

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

Earlier this month, the Senate fell three votes short of the 60 needed to approve a procedural motion to move to consider the Federal Water Quality Protection Act (S. 1140). Sponsored by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN), the bill directs the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corp) to issue a revised "Waters of the U.S." proposal that adheres to a set of principles, including what types of waterbodies a "waters of the U.S." should and should not include, as well as a process by which the agencies should use to develop the proposal.

After the motion failed, the Senate passed a resolution (SJ Res 22) under the Congressional Review Act to nullify the "Waters of the U.S." rule by a vote of 53-44. Under the resolution, the agencies would be barred from revisiting the matter or attempting to revise the rule that became final in August but is on hold under a court-ordered nationwide stay. President Obama has threatened to veto both the legislation and the resolution of disapproval.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit issued the temporary nationwide stay of the rule last month in a decision questioning not only the substantive nature of the rule but also the rulemaking process. The decision blocks implementation of the rule while the litigation over the rule proceeds. The nationwide stay follows a preliminary injunction of the rule in the 13 states that a U.S. District Court judge issued in August.