Federal Advocacy Update

In this issue:

Advocating for Infrastructure: Sharing Your Transportation Success Stories

Matthew Colvin, 202.626.3176

Last year, Congress passed the first long-term transportation funding bill in more than a decade. The FAST Act provides approximately four more years of funding for America's transportation infrastructure and puts more money in the hands of local leaders. With the clock already running down on the new transportation bill and Infrastructure Week just around the corner, city leaders can play a vital role in advocating for a greater share of federal transportation dollars, and more funding overall by sharing their transportation success stories with their state and federal lawmakers.

Join NLC, James O'Keeffe, Managing Principal of O'Keeffe Strategies LLC, Patrick Wojahn, mayor of College Park, Maryland, and chair of NLC's Transportation and Infrastructure Service Policy Committee, and Zach Schafer, Executive Director of Infrastructure Week, to learn how we can successfully share our stories with the decision makers in Washington, D.C.

Date: Tuesday, April 26, 2016
Time: 2:00PM EDT
Register for the webinar here.

Congress Takes Action on NLC Environmental Priorities

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

This week, both the Senate and House took action on NLC priorities: brownfields reauthorization and energy efficiency legislation.

On Wednesday, the Senate passed by a vote of 85-12 the bipartisan Energy Policy Modernization Act (S. 2012), which will improve energy efficiency in residential and commercial buildings, schools, appliances, federal buildings, and manufacturing. Additionally, the bill reauthorizes the Weatherization Assistance Program through 2020 and permanently reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund, both of which NLC supports.

In addition, two amendments that NLC supported were included in the bill. The first is an amendment sponsored by Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA), known as the SAVE Act, which will provide lenders and homeowners with more flexible federal mortgage underwriting rules that would include a home's expected energy cost savings when determining the value and affordability of the home. The second is an amendment sponsored by Senators James Inhofe (R-OK), Edward Markey (D-MA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) to reauthorize the EPA brownfields program. The amendment authorizes funding for multipurpose grants and increased technical assistance for communities, among other provisions that NLC supports; however, the full liability clarifications that NLC is seeking were not included.

The bill must now be reconciled with a House-passed version, H.R. 8, which passed the chamber in December and focuses much more on fossil fuels, such as oil, coal and natural gas. President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the House measure.

Additionally, on Wednesday the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Economy held a hearing on brownfields reauthorization. At the hearing, Mayor Christian J. Bollwage of Elizabeth, New Jersey, and Mathy Stanislaus, EPA Assistant Administrator for the Office of Solid Waste Management and Emergency Response, independently stated that the brownfields program is an engine for public-private partnership, jobs growth, and environmental protection and underscored the pressing need for modernization to accelerate economic revitalization at the local level. Like NLC, Mayor Bollwage and Administrator Stanislaus are advocates of increased funding, removal of funding caps, multi-purpose grants, reasonable administrative charges, eligibility clarification for previously acquired sites, CERCLA exemptions in cases of "non-involvement," and increased collaboration among all stakeholders.

Despite City Opposition, Senate Includes Federal Preemption in FAA Bill

Matthew Colvin, 202.626.3176

This Wednesday, the Senate passed a short-term reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (H.R. 636). Over NLC's opposition, the bill still includes language that would broadly block state and local control over drone regulations.

In response to the calls from city officials, Senate Commerce Committee leadership agreed late last week to include a bipartisan amendment that would strip the dangerous preemption language (Section 2152) from the bill in a package of amendments - all of which had broad support from both parties and Senate leadership. Unfortunately, their effort to pass these amendments, which would have required unanimous consent from the Senate to move forward, was held up by one Senator, Rand Paul (R-KY), who refused to allow the package to pass unless the Senate voted on his amendment to allow and incentivize arming pilots aboard commercial flights with guns.

While this is a disappointing outcome, thank you to the many local officials who helped build support for the amendment and to our amendment sponsors: Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), David Purdue (R-GA), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Ed Markey (D-MA).

Now that the Senate has acted, the House must pass their FAA Reauthorization bill before the July 15 funding extension deadline. If the House is able to move forward with their bill, there's still time to address this issue once and for all when the two chambers go to conference and iron out their language differences.

NLC will continue to track this legislation and advocate for local control of local airspace as it moves through Congress in the coming months.

NLC Gears Up for Infrastructure Week

Ashley Smith, 202.626.3094

Now in its fourth year, the National League of Cities (NLC) is once again participating in Infrastructure Week, May 16-23. The purpose of the week is to highlight the important role of infrastructure in our communities and the need to invest in our transportation, water, and broadband networks.

This Wednesday, NLC hosted a webinar, featuring NLC President Melodee Colbert-Kean, councilmember, Joplin, Missouri, Nicole DuPuis, Principal Associate - Urban Innovation in NLC's Center for City Solutions and Applied Research, and Zachary Schafer, Executive Director of Infrastructure Week, for our members to learn how cities can join one of the many events NLC will host, as well as how you can participate in your own cities. In case you missed it, click here to view the webinar slides.

NLC will host several events during Infrastructure Week, including:

  • A call to announce NLC's new report, Paying for Infrastructure in a New Era of Federalism, on Monday, May 16 at 11am EDT;
  • A webinar, co-hosted by NLC, National Association of Counties (NACo) and National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), for local leaders to learn more about opportunities in expanding access to broadband on Monday, May 16 at 1pm EDT;
  • A virtual infrastructure advocacy day. As NLC leaders and our allies converge on Capitol Hill, join us from home on May 18 to tell Congress to fix the transportation funding crisis. Sign up now to take part; and
  • An event discussing the 21st century water challenges facing cities on Capitol Hill on Thursday, May 19 at 2:30pm EDT.

Additional details for these events will be available in the coming weeks. Visit www.infrastructureweek.org to learn more or email your questions to advocacy@nlc.org.

Second Chance Act Smart Reentry Funding Opportunity

Ashley Smith, 202.626.3094

Join officials from the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and the National Reentry Resource Center on an upcoming webinar to learn more about the Second Chance Act (SCA) Smart Reentry Solicitation and how local government agencies can apply for funding before the June 9 deadline.

BJA's "Smart Suite" of programs, which includes the Smart Reentry Program, invests in the development of practitioner-researcher partnerships that use data, evidence, and innovation to help create effective criminal justice strategies and interventions. Having a data-driven approach can enable jurisdictions to understand the full nature and extent of the criminal justice challenges they face and prioritize their resources.

Date: Wednesday, May 4, 2016
Time: 2:00PM EDT
Register for the webinar here.

Relief for Puerto Rico Should Not Harm U.S. Cities

Carolyn Coleman, 202.626.3023

As has been widely reported, Puerto Rico's financial situation continues to deteriorate with the U.S. territory owing about $72 billion to bondholders, and public pensions running a $43 billion deficit. Puerto Rico has already defaulted on some of its debt and will miss sizable payments to creditors in May and July without a fiscal intervention. Because Puerto Rico does not have access to Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy, federal legislation is being considered that would provide Puerto Rico with the ability to restructure its debt in U.S. district court while also getting oversight from an independent, fiscal control board.

In a letter to House and Senate leadership, NLC voiced its support for legislative efforts specifically tailored to Puerto Rico to establish an orderly process to immediately initiate steps to restore fiscal order to the island and maintain critical services to the citizens of Puerto Rico, but cautioned that we will work against the legislation should it contain provisions, including the Public Employee Pension Transparency Act, that could be construed as applying to U.S. local governments. NLC opposes PEPTA, an unfunded mandate that would impose an administrative burden on state and local governments and threaten to eliminate the tax-exempt bonding authority of state and local governments.

The restructuring process being considered is preferable to a less orderly plan that pits Puerto Rico against its creditors in lengthy negotiations, while government services to the citizens of Puerto Rico deteriorate and a humanitarian crisis ensues. The latter could also have unintended consequences that would expose U.S. state and local governments to unyielding and inaccurate speculation about the likelihood of default on their own debt obligations, and drive news media and federal policy makers to draw false comparisons between Puerto Rico, which is a U.S. territory, and mainland state and local governments.

NLC Calls on FCC to Continue Engaging Local Governments

Angelina Panettieri, 202.626.3196

Last week, NLC called on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to continue to engage local, tribal, and state government stakeholders in crucial discussions of the telecommunications issues before the agency. In a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, NLC and local government partners asked the FCC to reauthorize the Intergovernmental Advisory Committee, which includes local, tribal, and state representatives, for an additional two years.

The Intergovernmental Advisory Committee, whose term is set to expire in June, has provided the FCC with feedback on a wide range of issues in its most recent term, including wireless facilities siting best practices, e-Rate modernization, and Lifeline reform. If the FCC chooses not to reauthorize the committee this year, it will be disbanded.

Tax Reform Blueprint Coming in June

Carolyn Coleman, 202.626.3023

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) announced his intentions to release an outline for a long-range overhaul of the tax code by June and said only the international tax overhaul portion of the outline would be a possibility for consideration in a post-election session this year. According to Brady, the outline will be a key part of an economic platform being developed by House Speaker Paul Ryan in time for the peak campaign season.

As the Committee continues work on examining the tax code, NLC continued its call to preserve the tax exemption for municipal bonds and the authority of local governments to set their own tax. To review comments NLC provided to the Committee, click here.

Immigration Reform on the Docket at U.S. Supreme Court

Carolyn Coleman, 202.626.3023

On Monday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in United States v. Texas, a case involving a challenge to President Obama's executive action on immigration reform, which allows certain undocumented immigrants who have U.S. citizen children to stay and work temporarily in the United States.

Last year, NLC joined over 100 mayors and local government officials in filing an amicus brief in the lawsuit, stating that the current broken immigration system hurts families, allows cultural misunderstandings to threaten communities and holds back economic growth by keeping a substantial population from being able to fully participate.

While a decision will not be announced until the end of June, when the Supreme Court will most likely issue its opinion on whether the President's Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program violates federal law, indications from this week's oral argument are that the Court may be split on the issues in this case.

For more information about the case, read our latest post on CitiesSpeak.

Senate Upholds Higher Spending Levels for Fiscal Year 2017

Michael Wallace, 202.626.3025

In a break from custom, the U.S. Senate took the lead away from the House in the annual appropriations process. Frustrated by decades of budget and spending breakdowns that have resulted in frequent spending delays and the occasional government shutdown that have, among other things, played havoc with state and local budgets, senators are signaling support for an overhaul of the entire budget process. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is pushing the Senate to meet his pledge to pass all 12 annual appropriations bills on time and at the spending levels negotiated by Congressional Leaders and the President in a deal that prevented a government shutdown last year. And Senate Budget Chair Mike Enzi (R-WY) began a campaign to have Congress move to a biannual process under which Congress would approve 2-year budgets and spending bills.

House Republicans have been cool to both the spending levels enacted by the Senate and ideas for changing the budget process. They are currently locked in a protracted fight over whether to honor the spending levels negotiated last year or to draft spending bills with further reductions as originally called for under sequestration. Even if the Senate is successful in approving all of the spending bills on time, it isn't clear that the House will be able to follow, and the possibility that Fiscal Year 2017 spending will not be established until after the presidential election remains high.

This week, several spending bills passed the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that include program priorities for cities and towns. While the final outcome of the FY 2017 spending levels for these programs remains subject to negotiation, it's a positive sign that in most instances programs important to cities and towns will begin the negotiations at funding levels near or above last year's levels.

Transportation-HUD

The housing market continues to rebound, which means federal housing programs are spending more on rent to maintain existing levels of support. This year, housing programs account for over 50 percent of the combined $56.5 billion the Senate allocated for the Departments of Housing and Transportation, and about 84 percent of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) budget alone. Within the HUD budget, the increasing cost of housing programs continues to squeeze other local assistance programs such as CDBG, HOME, and the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative. Thanks to ongoing local advocacy, the Senate found a way to keep CDBG and HOME intact for the most part, at $3 billion and $950 million respectively. But as housing costs continue to rise, so too does the possibility that programs not connected to housing subsidies, like CDBG, will be subject to cuts or legislative overhauls that may more strictly limit flexible funding to housing activities.

Under Transportation, the bill would boost funding for TIGER grants by $25 million to $525 million, showing that the popularity of the program among local officials is having an impact on Congress. Other programs, including support for rail and mass transit, are mostly in line with amounts called for in the FAST Act, the long-term surface transportation bill that passed with NLC support last year.

Commerce-Justice-Science

The Senate is also advancing a bill that includes $2.36 billion in funding for state and local law enforcement and crime prevention grant programs. A key feature of the bill provides support for local government efforts to combat the distribution of heroin and illegal opioids. Specifically, the bill provides: $132 million to support local law enforcement efforts to arrest and convict heroin and opioid drug dealers; $10 million for Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office's anti-heroin task force program; $12.5 million for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to establish four new heroin enforcement squads; $14 million to support opioid prevention and treatment opportunities; $14 million for prescription drug monitoring programs; and $43 million for drug courts.

In addition, the bill provides $384 million for the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program to support a range of local program areas including law enforcement, prosecution and court programs, prevention and education programs, corrections and community corrections, drug treatment and enforcement, crime victim and witness initiatives, and planning, evaluation, and technology improvement programs. The COPS Hiring grant program will receive $187 million to help local law enforcement agencies hire an additional 1,000 police officers. To strengthen community policing efforts, the bill also provides $70 million for local law enforcement agencies to purchase body cameras. To help reduce recidivism for adults released from jail, the bill provides $75 million for the Second Chance Act to support substance abuse treatment, employment assistance, and other rehabilitation services.

Energy-Water

The Senate bill provides $214.6 million for the Department of Energy Weatherization Assistance Program, a slight increase over FY 2016 levels ($211.6 million). Coming out of committee, the bill did not include policy riders, but the Senate began considering amendments this week, including an amendment that would withhold federal funds from implementation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' "Waters of the U.S." rule. As a result, President Obama has issued a veto threat against the Senate bill.

In addition, the House Appropriations Committee approved an Energy-Water appropriations bill on Tuesday. The bill provides $212 million for the Weatherization program, a slight increase over FY 2016 levels. The bill contains several policy riders, including a provision to block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' "Waters of the U.S." rule.