Federal Advocacy Update

In this issue:

City Leaders Champion Marketplace Fairness

Priya Ghosh Ahola, 202.626.3015

City Leaders on Capitol Hill
Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., speaks during a press event held Wednesday on Capitol Hill. (Photo Credit: NACo)

This week, as Americans kicked of the multi-billion dollar online holiday shopping season, city leaders came to Washington, D.C. to call for swift passage of marketplace fairness legislation. NLC President Ralph Becker, Mayor, Salt Lake City, and 2nd Vice President Matt Zone, Councilman, Cleveland, joined a group of state and local government leaders, retailers and members of Congress in the U.S. Capitol to speak about the importance of marketplace fairness to local businesses.

"For decades, local businesses on our Main Streets have been at a competitive disadvantage against remote sellers," said Mayor Becker. "It's long overdue that we correct this and provide an equal opportunity for our local brick and mortar businesses to compete with online stores."

Mayor Becker went on to credit the U.S. Senate for its work in successfully passing a bipartisan marketplace fairness bill and called on the House to complete the work. "This bill shows that support for this issue exists on both sides of the aisle," said Becker.

NLC and its allies have been hard at work lobbying Congress to pass a marketplace fairness bill by the end of the year. In November, NLC and a coalition of state and local government organizations sent a letter to congressional leaders calling on Congress to combine the Marketplace Fairness Act with a temporary extension of the Internet Freedom Act and pass the measure this year. NLC and State Leagues have also raised the profile of cities' concerns about marketplace fairness in the media:

Don't let another holiday shopping season pass with unfair competition. Send your message to your representative and tell Congress: stop stalling and pass marketplace fairness legislation now.

Congress Struggles with Spending Debate

Neil Bomberg and Michael Wallace

With only six days left under the current continuing resolution to fund the federal government, members of Congress continue to negotiate over an appropriations bill that will keep the government open through September 30, 2015, the end of the current fiscal year. While leadership in both chambers and both parties have indicated a desire to get a bill passed by the December 11 deadline, disagreements may force Congress to pass another short-term measure and regroup in early 2015 to pass a longer appropriations package. Senate and House Appropriations Committee chairs have stated that while negotiations on funding levels for most federal programs have been completed, legislators are still addressing several policy disagreements that could result in some form of government shutdown.

For more information on the debate and how it affects cities, read this in-depth Q&A on the current appropriations process.

Congress Expected to Pass "Tax Extenders" Package

Michael Wallace, 202.626.3025

On Wednesday, the House approved the Tax Increase Prevention Act, which would extend for one year dozens of tax credits that had expired at the end of 2013, making filers eligible to claim them on 2014 tax returns. The one-year extension is being characterized as a temporary measure to allow Congress to resume the debate over a potential comprehensive federal tax reform bill next year. The Senate, which must still vote on the measure, is expected to approve the bill as there is little time to make additional changes in the lame-duck session. Among the "tax extenders" in the bill benefitting individuals and business interests, several are important to cities and towns. Among them:

  • Deduction for state and local sales taxes in lieu of state income taxes
    Filers itemizing their taxes may deduct the state sales taxes they've paid in lieu of state income taxes. 
  • Pre-tax benefit for transit and parking
    Under current law, employees who commute to work by driving and parking may claim a larger pre-tax benefit, up to $250 per month, than commuters who use mass transit, up to $130 per month. The bill would increase the benefit for mass transit commuters to an equal level of $250 per month.
  • Work Opportunity Tax Credit
    This is a tax credit for qualified wages provided to members of targeted groups to incentivize employment, such as food stamp recipients or individuals receiving Supplemental Security Income benefit.
  • New Markets Tax Credit
    This is a tax credit for businesses that make investments in low-income communities and development institutions.
  • Tax Incentives for Empowerment Zones
    This provides tax benefits for businesses and employers operating in economically-depressed census tracts federally designated as Empowerment Zones.
  • Low-Income Housing Tax Credit
    This provides a temporary minimum low-income housing tax credit rate of 9% for non-federally subsidized new buildings.
  • Energy Tax Credits
    These tax credits incentivize the use of wind energy, biofuels, and construction of energy-efficient homes.

President Announces 21st Century Policing Task Force

Yucel Ors, 202.626.3124

NLC Public Safety and Crime Prevention Steering Committee member Karen Freeman-Wilson, Mayor, Gary, Indiana, joined a group of mayors, law enforcement officials and civil rights leaders this week in a meeting with President Obama to discuss how communities and law enforcement can work together to build trust to strengthen neighborhoods across the country.

During the meeting, the President announced that he will issue an executive order creating a Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which will be chaired by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, who also serves as President of the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association, and Laurie Robinson, professor at George Mason University and former Assistant Attorney General for Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs. The Task Force will include, among others, law enforcement representatives and community leaders and will operate in collaboration with Ron Davis, Director of DOJ's Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office.

The Task Force will build on the extensive research currently being conducted by COPS; will examine, among other issues, how to promote effective crime reduction while building public trust; and will be directed to prepare a report and recommendations within 90 days of its creation. NLC is working closely the COPS Office to ensure local elected officials have a strong voice in the discussion and final outcome of the report.

Pressure Builds in the House to Pass TRIA

Yucel Ors, 202.626.3124

Pressure is building in the House to reauthorize the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) before it expires on December 31, 2014. A bipartisan group of Senate and House leaders are expected to meet early next week to try to reconcile differences between the two chambers before Congress adjourns next week. The Senate passed the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2014 (S. 2244) on July 17, 2014 on a vote of 93-4. The House Committee on Financial Services approved the TRIA Reform Act of 2014 (H.R. 4871) on June 20, 2014, by a vote of 32-27, but the bill stalled on the House floor due to intraparty disagreements. In a letter to House leadership sent yesterday, NLC urged support for a long-term reauthorization of TRIA without significant changes to the essential components of the program.

NLC Supports Greenhouse Gas Reduction Proposal

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

On Monday, NLC submitted comments supporting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule on Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units. As cities across the nation are currently experiencing impacts of climate change, NLC asked EPA to "move quickly to finalize a national plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions," as well as to "provide additional incentives to states, local governments, and utilities to help them move as quickly as possible in implementing their greenhouse gas reduction actions."

The Clean Power Plan proposed rule sets carbon pollution emissions guidelines for existing power plants. As proposed, the plan would result in an overall national reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. This overall reduction would be achieved through state-specific goals for emissions reductions, which vary by state, but are based on a standard formula that takes into account current sources of power generation, energy efficiency measures, and expected fossil fuel plant retirements in each state. The proposal does not set emissions goals for Vermont or Washington, DC, as neither have a fossil fuel-fired power plant.

Under the proposed 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 renewable energy generation, increasing low carbon power sources, and reducing demand for energy by improving energy efficiency. While NLC supports the flexibility for states to determine their own best method for meeting the emissions reduction targets, NLC asked EPA to "ensure that local governments are afforded sufficient opportunity for input into the development of state implementation plans in order to promote cooperative initiatives, but also to avoid the shifting of cost burdens to local governments through unfunded mandates."

In addition to the options outlined in the proposed rule, NLC encouraged EPA to recognize that the energy that is produced from reusing Municipal Solid Waste, which diverts waste from landfills, be considered a renewable energy source.

EPA plans to finalize the rule by June 2015, with state implementation plans due by June 2016.

EPA Responds to Cities' Clean Water Act Affordability Concerns

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

After nearly two years of discussion with NLC, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and the National Association of Counties, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released a new Financial Capability Framework for developing schedules for municipal projects necessary to meet Clean Water Act (CWA) obligations. The Framework builds on existing efforts by EPA to recognize the challenges local governments face in balancing environmental protection with economic feasibility.

The dialogue between local officials and EPA stemmed from growing concerns that costly water and wastewater mandates were dramatically impacting low and fixed income residents. The consensus of the local officials was that the current reliance on two percent of median household income for wastewater and combined sewer overflows controls is a misleading indicator of a community's ability to pay, and often places a particularly high burden on residents at the lower end of the economic scale.

The Framework is intended to clarify how the financial capability of a community will be considered when developing schedules for permits and consent decrees, and "provide examples of additional information that may help some communities provide a ‘more accurate and complete picture' of their financial capability."

In a statement following the EPA's release, NLC Executive Director Clarence Anthony said, "The financial capability framework outlines new socio-economic factors that will paint a better picture of what is affordable for residents and communities. We must find a new approach to determining affordability because the current framework has been shown to have disproportionate impact on our most vulnerable populations." Examples of additional information that may be relevant in negotiating schedules for permits or consent decrees includes residential indicators such as income distribution, poverty rates and trends, and sewer and water usage. Examples of additional information related to community financial capability includes population trends, unemployment data, and dedicated revenue streams or limitations.

EPA Releases Proposed Rule for Ozone Reduction

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a proposed rule on the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone, proposing to reduce both the primary and secondary standard to within a range of 65-70 parts per billion (ppb) over an 8-hour average down from the current standard of 75ppb. Under the proposed standards, some areas that are currently designated as in "attainment" would no longer meet EPA ozone requirements, and be subject to certain obligations. EPA held a briefing on the proposed rule with information for local and state government groups.

EPA would designate areas as in "attainment" or "nonattainment" by October 2017, based on 2014-2016 air quality data. For areas that are found to be in nonattainment, the state must submit to EPA a state implementation plan for how it will reduce ozone levels to reach attainment by a target date between 2020 and 2037. The state or local authority will be responsible for implementing the plan and demonstrating that progress is being made to improve the air quality in the nonattainment area.

While states ultimately decide what measures to implement to meet the standard, EPA has developed illustrative measures in order to estimate costs. Those estimates are $3.9 billion in 2025 for a standard of 70 ppb, and $15 billion for a standard at 65 ppb, nationwide except for California. Estimated costs in California post-2025 are $800 million for a standard of 70 ppb and $1.6 billion for a standard of 65 ppb.

EPA analyzed costs and benefits for California separately because a number of California counties would have longer to meet the proposed standard based on their ozone levels, with likely attainment dates ranging from 2032 to 2037.

EPA will seek public comment on the proposal for 90 days following publication in the Federal Register and plans to issue final ozone standards by October 1, 2015. NLC is currently reviewing the proposal and will likely submit comments.