Federal Advocacy Update

In this issue:

 

Get Involved: Become A Federal Advocacy Committee Member

Avery Peters, 202.626.3196

Are you interested in making even more of a difference for cities?

Serving on one of NLC's federal advocacy committees is one of the most rewarding ways for you as a municipal leader to bring your expertise to the service of cities and towns at the national level. By representing your city or town and contributing your voice, you have the opportunity to shape the efforts of the National League of Cities to proactively drive federal policy on issues that matter the most to cities. Depending on your availability and the level of commitment you seek, there is a spot for you to get involved with NLC.

Applications are available now to serve on the seven Federal Advocacy Committees. All applications are due October 14, 2015.

Want to learn more about the work of each committee? Click here to find out which committee is the best fit for you.

NLC's in-coming president appoints the leadership and members for the seven federal advocacy committees for the upcoming year. Leadership and members serve a one-year term and are eligible annually for reappointment via application. Committee chairs also serve as members on NLC's Board of Directors.

Appointment to a Committee requires:

  • Attendance at all meetings
  • Commitment to actively advocate on NLC's organizational priorities, as well as meaningfully contribute to the Committee you are serving on
  • Your city to be a member of the National League of Cities

You may submit a Federal Advocacy Committee Member Application here. The application is due by Wednesday, October 14, 2015.

Progress Still Needed on E-Fairness Legislation

Priya Ghosh Ahola, 202.626.3015

As Congress returns to its work this month, NLC continues to press for progress on e-fairness. Since Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) introduced the Remote Transactions Parity Act (RTPA, HR 2775) this summer, hundreds of city advocates have called on their representatives to cosponsor this bill.

Besides the hundreds of city officials who have taken action in support of the legislation, the Arkansas Municipal League, the Colorado Municipal League, the Georgia Municipal Association, the Illinois Municipal League, the Michigan Municipal League, the Mississippi Municipal League, the Nevada League of Cities and Municipalities, the Oklahoma Municipal League, the Tennessee Municipal League, the Virginia Municipal League, and the Association of Washington Cities have also taken action to voice their support for the legislation with their congressional delegations.

Your collective action is having an impact. So far, a bipartisan group of nearly 50 have signed on as cosponsors to the legislation. If your organization has sent a letter and would like to see it included on our site, please forward a copy to advocacy@nlc.org.

If enacted, the RTPA will give states and local governments the flexibility to require remote online retailers to collect the sales taxes that are already owed on remote purchases. Closing this online sales tax loophole would not only level the playing field between online sellers and Main Street brick and mortar ones who are required to collect the tax, it would also mean resources for local governments to fund much needed local services like infrastructure and public safety. It is estimated that this loophole costs states and local governments $23 billion annually, which is why its passage is a top priority for NLC and cities.

If you haven't already, contact your House members and thank them for their support if they are already a co-sponsor, or urge them to cosponsor the bill if they have not. If you would like to send your representative an official letter from your city, you can download sample letter language to use. You can also view a current list of organizations who have endorsed the bill online. Do your part to get e-fairness legislation passed this year.

Local Officials Seizing Bully Pulpit on Transportation to get a Better Deal for Cities and Towns

Michael Wallace, 202.626.3025

Just before the August recess, the Senate passed the "Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy (DRIVE) Act", a bill that authorizes over $50 billion in federal funding annually for six years to support highway, bridge, and transit projects and programs.

At the same time, the Senate was forced to pass another short-term extension for transportation funding - the 35th time an extension was required over the past decade. The latest short-term extension was necessary because the House refused to vote on the Senate bill and announced it would consider a House originated bill in September.

NLC President Ralph Becker, Mayor, Salt Lake City, UT, applauded the Senate for answering NLC's call for a long-term transportation bill; but he also delivered a harsh message, saying "Today, for the 35th time in the past decade, Congress has passed a short-term extension to fund the nation's transportation systems. While Congress has promised further consideration of a long-term bill in the fall, it's far too long overdue to have a real and robust, long-term plan that would allow greater certainty in the planning process necessary for good projects that contribute to local economies."

It's the same message President Becker delivered in face-to-face meetings with Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe and Ranking Member Barbara Boxer in the days before the DRIVE Act was introduced; and to Members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee last spring as the only local official to testify in a full committee hearing on the transportation bill; and to Congressional staffers and the political press alongside other NLC Advocacy Committee Leaders and local elected officials representing USCM and NACo to demonstrate unity among local governments during Infrastructure Week.

The success of the DRIVE Act may have surprised many in Washington who considered the obstacles against a new long-term transportation bill to be too high - but it did not surprise local officials whose visibility on transportation issues has been rapidly building over the last year. And, with over $50 billion a year a stake, creating and continuing to seize opportunities on Capitol Hill to elevate the visibility of local officials is critical to achieving a better deal for cities and towns.

September Advocacy Critical for House Bill

With Congress' return to work in Washington this month, NLC advocacy efforts will focus on ensuring the House delivers a bill that maintains the gains in the Senate bill and that restores funding to cities and towns under the Surface Transportation Program. Last week, NLC President Becker joined with other local government leaders on a letter to House leaders recommending targeted legislative actions to accomplish just that.

Join NLC's advocacy in the House by telling your House member you support NLC's transportation priorities and letting NLC know.

New Resources on Supreme Court Sign Case Now Available

Angelina Panettieri, 202.626.3196

In Reed v. Town of Gilbert the Supreme Court ruled that Gilbert's sign code violates the First Amendment. Many, if not most, communities must now revise their sign codes. Most sign codes apply different rules to different categories of signs based on content, which the Supreme Court now generally prohibits. In a free webinar last month hosted by NLC and the State and Local Legal Center, John M. Baker of Greene Espel discussed the practical implications of this case for local governments.

Download NLC's free webinar to learn more about bringing your city's sign ordinances into compliance with new standards from the Supreme Court's recent decision.

EPA Clean Water Rule in Effect in 37 States

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

Last month, following a last-minute preliminary injunction by a North Dakota judge, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' (Army Corps) controversial Clean Water Rule (also known as the "Waters of the U.S." rule) went into effect in 37 states. The rule aims to clarify which waters fall under federal jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act (CWA).

There continues, however, to be legal and congressional challenges to the rule. The 29 states that filed suit against the EPA and the Army Corp though 10 separate cases challenged the rule on the grounds that the agencies overstepped their constitutional authority and asked for an injunction. The cases have been consolidated into a single suit under the Sixth Circuit of Appeals. Two other judges who heard petitions from states for an injunction failed to block the rule before it went into effect.

Last week, the United States District Court for North Dakota confirmed that the scope of its preliminarily injunction of the Clean Water Rule is limited to the 13 states that were parties to the litigation before the court: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.

Meanwhile in Congress, while the House has passed a bill to restart the rulemaking process, the Senate is still short of the 60 votes needed to pass a similar bill. This month, Congress must act on the FY16 appropriations and there remains the potential for policy riders to block the rule and restart the rulemaking process in any appropriations, omnibus or continuing resolution bill.

Related to the questions that have been asked regarding the treatment of stormwater systems under the rule, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) recently wrote to EPA and Army Corps asking how stormwater systems that were built prior to the enactment of the Clean Water Act and that may have been built on historically wet areas, as is the case in D.C. and many other older communities, will be treated under the rule.

With the rule now in effect in a majority of the states, EPA has published the first of several expected Q&A documents to address technical and practical questions regarding implementation of the rule. NLC is hopeful that these documents will address the outstanding concerns that have been raised with the rule, particularly around the issues of "dry land" as it relates to the stormwater exclusion: who is responsible for determining whether a feature meets the terms of the exclusion and how should that determination be made.

White House Acts to Address Climate Change

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

Last month, President Obama took two key actions to address climate change committing to reduce carbon emissions and promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. Through the first-ever national standards to reduce carbon pollution from power plans and a series of executive actions, the president is demonstrating the U.S's commitment to climate mitigation and adaption ahead of the U.N. Conference of Parties (COP21) climate negotiations in Paris later this year.

Clean Power Plan

The Clean Power Plan sets state-specific carbon emissions reduction goals, letting the states develop and implement their own plan for meeting the goal. Once fully implemented, the Clean Power Plan will reduce carbon emissions from power plants by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

In a statement, NLC President Ralph Becker, mayor, Salt Lake City, Utah said, "We are glad the administration has unveiled an initiative to act aggressively on climate change. For years cities have been on the front lines dealing with climate change - from rising sea levels and wildfires to heat waves and flooding - and city leaders have been taking action on their own to improve energy efficiency, adopt renewable energy programs and improve the resiliency of their communities. We continue to urge the federal government take action to support cities and towns and make a strong commitment to an international climate agreement."

Under the rule, states will have broad flexibilities to develop the strategies and solutions for meeting the state goals, including making fossil fuel power plants more efficient, increasing low carbon power sources, and increasing renewable energy generation. Among the implementation options for states is the ability to develop multi-state approaches and to establish market-based trading programs, such as already underway in California and New England/Mid-Atlantic. To read the full article, click here.

NLC Rallies Support for U.N. Climate Agreement

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

The announcement of the Clean Power Plan and the executive actions comes as NLC urged the Senate to support U.S. leadership towards a United Nations climate agreement. NLC will lead a delegation of city officials to the COP21 meeting in Paris in December to showcase their cities' climate leadership and call for an ambitious international agreement that addresses our climate crisis and supports further action at the local level.

This group of mayors, called the Local Climate Leaders Circle, includes mayors of Atlanta, Boulder, Chula Vista, Columbus, Des Moines, Grand Rapids, Oakland, Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City, West Palm Beach, and councilmembers from Santa Monica and King County, Wash. The members of the Local Climate Leaders Circle have committed to the Compact of Mayors, a global coalition of mayors and city officials pledging to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions, enhance resilience to climate change, and track their progress transparently.

During his announcement of the energy efficiency and renewable energy executive actions, the President issued a challenge to mayors to publicly commit to a climate action plan ahead of the Paris UN meeting, and has set a goal of having at least 100 US cities that have signed onto the Compact of Mayors by the end of November.

"These leading mayors will share examples of how local solutions are playing a critical role to address the truly global challenges related to climate change," said National League of Cities CEO Clarence E. Anthony. "Our goal is for the Local Climate Leaders Circle partners to share the experiences and best practices learned in Paris with city leaders across the nation to inspire their peers to reach higher to mitigate climate change."

Moratorium on Internet Access Taxation Set to Expire

Julia Pulidindi, 202.626.3176

The Internet Tax Freedom Act (ITFA) is set to expire on October 1, and NLC is fighting to ensure that any further preemption of taxation of Internet access remains temporary. ITFA is a moratorium that prohibits state and local governments from taxing access to the Internet (ie Internet subscriptions). When ITFA first became law in 1998, the Internet was very new and to encourage its widespread use, Congress opted to preempt state and local governments from assessing a tax on the access component of the service. At the time, 10 states already had an Internet access tax in place so were grandfathered in and allowed to maintain them. Since then, the ITFA moratorium has been extended 4 times, the most recent being last December when Congress extended it to October 1, 2015.

Earlier this year, both the House and the Senate introduced versions of ITFA, the Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act, PITFA (H.R. 235/S. 431) that would permanently extend the tax moratorium, as well as repeal the grandfather clause. The termination of the grandfather clause would result in a loss of almost $500 million in the seven states that still tax Internet access (since 1998, 3 states have repealed their Internet access tax.)

Despite opposition from NLC, on June 9, the full House passed H.R. 235, setting a process in motion that would permanently block state and local governments from collecting hundreds of millions of dollars in potential revenue. The legislation now awaits action in the Senate. NLC continues to lobby against a permanent moratorium.

New GASB Rule Requires Disclosure of Tax Abatements

Priya Ghosh Ahola, 202.626.3015

Local governments commonly use tax abatements to attract and retain business and jobs in a community. In exchange for the abatement or agreement by the local government to forego tax revenues, the company commits to making certain investments in a community that contribute to economic growth and development. State and local laws govern the use of tax abatement process, and generally require a transparent process for approving the abatement agreement and compliance by both the local government and the company in filing reports regarding the abatement.
Recently, the Government Accounting Standards Board approved new guidelines (Statement 77) that for the first time requires local governments to disclose on financial statements information about tax abatement agreements. According to GASB, although many governments offer tax abatements and provide information to the public about them, "they do not always provide the information necessary to assess how tax abatements affect their financial position and results of operations, including their ability to raise resources in the future."

This Statement requires disclosure of tax abatement information about (1) a reporting government's own tax abatement agreements and (2) those that are entered into by other governments and that reduce the reporting government's tax revenues. The following information must now be disclosed by the government that entered into the agreement:

  • Brief descriptive information, such as the tax being abated, the authority under which tax abatements are provided, eligibility criteria, the mechanism by which taxes are abated, provisions for recapturing abated taxes, and the types of commitments made by tax abatement recipients;
  • The gross dollar amount of taxes abated during the period; and
  • Commitments made by a government, other than to abate taxes, as part of a tax abatement agreement.

The requirements of this Statement are effective for financial statements for periods beginning after December 15, 2015.

In its comments to GASB during the drafting process, among other concerns, NLC cautioned that the narrow focus on the taxes abated would be misleading in that it would paint an incomplete picture of the impact of the abatement on the local government's overall financial position.
For more information regarding Statement 77, click here.

NLC Files Comments in the FCC's Lifeline Proceeding

Julia Pulidindi, 202.626.3176

The National League of Cities, along with the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, filed comments addressing the FCC's recent proposal to reform and modernize the Lifeline program. For nearly 30 years, the Lifeline program has ensured that low-income Americans have access to communications services. Understanding the transition in technologies and needs of the public, the Lifeline program has evolved from providing only wired telephone services to wireless services. And now as broadband is increasingly becoming the primary medium of communication, the FCC is now seeking comment on how best to reform and modernize this critical program.

While very supportive of extending Lifeline benefits to include broadband services, NLC voiced concerns that the FCC's oversight efforts will continue to combat waste, fraud and abuse as they work to update the program to meet the needs of today's low-income Americans. We also cited our approval with several proposals to streamline the eligibility process, and expanding the pool of potential service providers beyond traditional eligible telecommunications carriers.