Federal Advocacy Update: Week Ending May 9, 2014

In this issue:

  • As One Year Anniversary Passes, NLC Tells House Cost of Inaction On E-Fairness Too Great
  • Transportation Debate Shifts Into Higher Gear
  • House Appropriators Support Local Officials on CDBG
  • NLC Supports EPA Greenhouse Gas Proposal
  • NLC Seeks Comment Extension on Water of the US Proposed Rule
  • NLC Urges the FCC to Modernize E-Rate Program
  • NLC Joins in Supporting Infrastructure Week 2014
  • Free Webinar: Government Prayer After Supreme Court's Town of Greece Decision
  • NLC Celebrates Partnerships with Federal Agencies
  • Constituency Groups Lobby Capitol Hill for City Priorities 

As One Year Anniversary Passes, NLC Tells House Cost of Inaction On E-Fairness Too Great

Carolyn Coleman, 202.626.3023

This week marked the one year anniversary of Senate passage of the Marketplace Fairness Act, a bill would level the playing field between online and brick and mortar retailers by requiring online ones to collect sales taxes on online purchases. The Senate passed the bill 69-27 last year. It is estimated that this loophole costs $23 billion in lost sales tax revenues for state and local governments. "Thanks to the support of the 69 Senators who voted in favor of the legislation, main street retailers are one step closer to a level playing field, and state and local governments are one step closer to a stronger tax base to fund vital services like public safety and infrastructure. However, the cost of further inaction is too great for our local business and communities; the time is now to pass this common sense legislation," said NLC President Chris Coleman, mayor, Saint Paul, MN. The House has yet to schedule any action on the legislation.

Transportation Debate Shifts Into Higher Gear

Leslie Wollack, 202.626.3029

Washington moved the conversation on reauthorization of federal surface transportation programs into a higher gear this week as U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx warned state transportation departments that the impending shortfall of transportation funds is real. Transportation programs expire on September 30, but funding from federal gas tax revenues is anticipated to run out by August.

Besides the Secretary's warning, two Senate Committees held hearings on transportation, and Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Barbara Boxer announced that the "big four" bipartisan leadership of the Committee would introduce a bill next Monday, May 12, and mark it up on Thursday, May 15.

In his testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee - one of four in the Senate with jurisdiction over transportation programs - Foxx highlighted provisions in the Administration recently introduced proposal, the GROW AMERICA Act. With increased funding for transit programs, new efforts to streamline the regulatory process to cut red tape involved in federally funded projects, funding for TIFIA credit programs and the TIGER grant program, bringing passenger rail programs, the emphasis on coordination of freight plans, focus on rural efforts and other initiatives, this $302 billion, four-year proposal with many NLC priorities for a new program. For more details on the President's proposal, go here.

As the debate gets underway, NLC will continue to advocate for a long term, multimodal transportation reauthorization program that requires local input in the project selection process. Join our transportation advocacy team.

House Appropriators Support Local Officials on CDBG

Michael Wallace, 202.626.3025 and Leslie Wollack, 202.626.3029

On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee gave initial approval to the $52 billion FY 2015 spending bill for the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (THUD). In sharp contrast to last year's appropriations process, this year's bill calls for essentially level funding for the Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG) at $3 billion. Last year, the House considered a bill that would have cut funding for CDBG in half, to $1.6 billion but eventually caved to CDBG advocates in Congress and local officials. Among other local priorities, funding for homeless assistance would be maintained at $2.1 billion and include 10,000 new vouchers for supportive housing for homeless veterans. Funding for Housing Choice Vouchers would be increased slightly to renew existing housing vouchers but not enough to restore any of the 40,000 vouchers cut as a result of sequestration. The HOME program would not fare as well, with a proposed cut of $300 million from last year's level of $1 billion.

On the transportation side, the bill provides nearly $40.25 billion from the Highway Trust Fund to be spent on the federal highway program, which is equal to this year's level. However, the funding is contingent on the enactment of a new transportation program since the current expires on September 30. Compared to this year's levels, among other cuts, the bill cuts $200 million for Amtrak capital grants, $500 million from the TIGER grant program, and $252 million from transit capital grants. Also, projects eligible for the TIGER program would be restricted to roads, bridges, ports and freight rail.

The House bill is effectively the opening bid in negotiations over funding for housing and transportation programs in FY 2015. The Senate is expected to release its own proposal in the coming weeks.

NLC Supports EPA Greenhouse Gas Proposal

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

This week, NLC submitted comments supporting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) proposed rule to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new natural gas and coal-fired power plants as an important policy approach to combat the effects of climate change on the nation's cities and environment.

The proposed rule establishes separate emissions standards for new natural gas (including a less stringent standard for small units) and coal-fired units to ensure that the power plants of the future use cleaner energy technologies-such as efficient natural gas technology, carbon capture and storage, nuclear power, and renewable energy like wind and solar. The proposed rule is a signature part of the President's Climate Action Plan (Plan) to reduce carbon pollution and prepare the U.S. for the impacts of climate change, particularly with regard to supporting adaptation and resilience efforts at the local level.

Additional proposed rules designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from other sources are expected later this year.

On a related front this week, the White House released the National Climate Assessment that provides a comprehensive scientific analysis of the impacts of climate change by region and sector, now and in the coming decades.

NLC Seeks Extension to File Comments on Waters of the US Proposed Rule

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

In response to a recent proposed rule by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to change the Clean Water Act (CWA) definition of "Waters of the U.S.", NLC requested that EPA and the Corps extend the public comment period by 90 days. The agencies' economic analysis largely examines only potential impacts on the CWA Section 404 dredge and fill permit program, which NLC believes does not provide a complete analysis of the economic impact of the rule. NLC requests additional time to further develop an economic analysis and more completely understand how this definition change will impact all CWA programs, including the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), total maximum daily load (TMDL) and other water quality standards programs, state water quality certification process, and Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) programs.

NLC Urges the FCC to Modernize E-Rate Program

Julia Pulidindi, 202.626.3176

As the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) undertakes a full review of the E-Rate program, which provides schools and libraries with affordable telecommunications services, broadband Internet access and internal network connections, NLC called on the agency to modernize and increase funding for the program, and to streamline the application process.

Since its inception in 1997, the E-Rate program has been successful in providing increased access to modern communications networks to our nation's schools and libraries. The availability and adoption of quality broadband service can vary dramatically from one neighborhood to another, even in heavily populated urban areas. Community schools and libraries can fill this gap by providing local residents with access to broadband and computing hardware that may be cost prohibitive for individuals. However, because the program is so oversubscribed, many communities' residents are unable to rely on their schools and libraries to get online. The FCC has not set a timetable to complete its review.

NLC Joins in Supporting Infrastructure Week 2014

Leslie Wollack, 202.626.3029

Next week, NLC will join in supporting Infrastructure Week 2014, a showcase of emerging solutions, innovative approaches, and best practices nationwide to modernize aging infrastructure. As part of the week's activities, NLC will co-host two events. For those in the Washington, D.C. area, NLC will host a discussion, "The Economic Impact of Public Transportation Investment: Stories from Around the Country," on Thursday, May 15 and 12:30 p.m. on Capitol Hill that will feature NLC First Vice President Ralph Becker, mayor, Salt Lake City, UT. We're hosting a free webinar on Tuesday, May 13 at 2:00 p.m. EDT, "Local Solutions to Pay for Your Transportation Projects: Infrastructure Funding & Financing." The webinar will feature speakers from city government and local transportation authorities and will help participants understand the intricacies of alternative financing and funding mechanisms.

Register for the webinar now.

Free Webinar: Government Prayer After Supreme Court's Town of Greece Decision

Carolyn Coleman, 202.626.3023

In a 5-4 decision this week that clarifies allowable prayer practices before local government bodies and state legislatures, the Supreme Court held that the Town of Greece (New York) did not violate the First Amendment by opening its meetings with a prayer. While anyone could give a prayer at a Town of Greece board meeting, from 1999-2007 all prayer givers were Christian with some referring to Jesus in their prayers. The town recruited "board chaplains" from a local directory where nearly all congregations were Christian. Clergy crafted their own messages without any input from the town. The plaintiffs in the case argued that legislative prayer cannot contain sectarian language and prayers before town board meetings were coercive. Justice Kennedy's majority opinion rejected both arguments. Read the Town of Greece v. Galloway opinion.

Join Tom Hungar, Gibson Dunn, who argued this case before the Supreme Court, Douglas Haney, City Attorney for the City of Carmel, Indiana, and Lanny Proffer, former General Counsel for the National Conference of States Legislatures, in a discussion about how the Court's ruling affects both state and local government in a free webinar on May 28, from 1:00 - 2:00 p.m. EDT.

This FREE webinar is co-sponsored by the State and Local Legal Center, the International Municipal Lawyers Association, and the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Reserve your webinar seat now.

NLC Celebrates Partnership with Federal Agencies

Angelina Panettieri, 202.626.3196

(L-R: Rohan Patel and Clarence Anthony speak to agency liaisons)

This week, NLC hosted a briefing for intergovernmental liaisons from 16 federal agencies and the White House. During the session, NLC Executive Director Clarence Anthony thanked the group for partnering with the organization over the last year and challenged the group to consider more collaboration with NLC. "Cities make it happen, and the work that we are doing together to help local officials strengthen their communities on behalf of their residents is important," he said.

Over the last few years, NLC has developed strong partnerships with the federal agencies and the White House to expand opportunities to help city leaders address challenges in their communities. During the meeting, Anthony and Rohan Patel, Deputy Director of Intergovernmental Affairs for the White House, showcased a number of these partnerships, including:

Constituency Groups Lobby Capitol Hill for City Priorities

Angelina Panettieri, 202.626.3196

Constituency Groups Lobby
NLC constituency group leaders prepare to visit Capitol Hill

Leadership from all five of NLC's constituency groups convened in Washington this week to visit lawmakers on Capitol Hill and urge Congress to prioritize passage of the Marketplace Fairness Act, comprehensive immigration reform, and preservation of the federal tax exemption for municipal bonds in 2014. The NLC delegates represented six states and seven cities, and met with fourteen congressional offices on Thursday to urge their members of Congress to take action before the end of the 113th Congress.

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