Federal Advocacy Update: Week of August 14, 2018

Interior of Capitol building dome.
Interior of Capitol building dome.

In this issue:

Cities Stand to Benefit from Senate Budget Milestone

Michael Wallace, 202.626.3025

The Senate has achieved a budget process milestone: For the first time since 2000, the Senate has approved a majority of their annual spending bills. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but for city leaders, this is progress and there are two key reasons to applaud. 

First, it shows that the Senate is serious about restoring certainty to the federal budget process. After years of potential and actual federal government shutdowns, and the resulting turmoil for city services and municipal budgets, the Senate is trying to complete work in time to negotiate final Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 spending figures with the House and the White House before the federal fiscal year ends on September 30.  

Second, it shows the power of bipartisan cooperation. So far, unlike in the House, Senators are fully allocating the hard-won funding increases approved in the two-year Bipartisan Budget Act; and they are honoring an informal agreement to not use spending bills as vehicles for partisan policy battles.  

As a result, just prior to their early August break, the Senate passed a $154.2 billion spending package by an overwhelming bipartisan margin of 92-6.  The bill, H.R. 6147, contained four of the 12 annual appropriations bills: Interior-Environment (S. 3073), Financial Services (S. 3107), Agriculture (S. 2976) and Transportation-HUD (S. 3023). They did this following the passage of a three-bill package last month that contained the Energy-Water (S. 2975), Military Construction-VA (S. 3024) and Legislative Branch (S. 3071) bills. With the Senate returning to work this week after an abbreviated August Recess, they will turn to consideration of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education bill, which is expected to receive passage before September. 

In general, the Senate is maintaining last year’s funding increases for city priorities, including $3.3 billion for CDBG. City leaders can track the development of that and dozens of other federal programs important to cities by visiting NLC’s Budget Tracker.

Although there are encouraging signs of progress in the Senate, unpredictable obstacles remain before Congress is finished with their appropriations work. Those include the election year politics playing out now in the House and the less-than-clear lines being drawn by the White House on the president’s funding priorities.

With August Recess in Full Swing, City Leaders Urge Congress to Rebuild With Us

Ashley Smith, 202.626.3094

Although the Senate might be back at work, the House entered their third week of recess this week. With Members of Congress back in-district for a sustained period of time, it’s the perfect time to tell the story of why cities need a strong federal-local partnership when it comes to infrastructure investment. 

One of the most effective ways to grab your Representative’s attention is to place an opinion-editorial (op-ed) in your local newspaper. Members of Congress and their staff keep a close eye on local and regional media outlets because it helps them stay up-to-date with what’s happening in their district. A well-crafted op-ed can grab their attention and further their understand of an issue.

City leaders are raising their voices about the current state of their city’s infrastructure and two great examples come from opposite sides of the country. Lacey, Washington Deputy Mayor Cynthia Pratt, who serves on the Board of Directors for the Association of Washington Cities and National League of Cities as Chair of the Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Federal Advocacy Committee, highlighted the deterioration of the Nisqually Bridges, a vital component to the Interstate 5 corridor, in an op-ed published in the Tacoma News Tribune on July 21. In this op-ed she chronicles not only the human impact of inaction – longer commutes, delayed shipments and road closures – but she also describes the irreparable damage inflicted on the Nisqually River ecosystem if these bridges aren’t repaired soon.

On August 10, Tallahassee, Florida City Commissioner Gil Ziffer, who serves as President of the Florida League of Cities and as the National League of Cities Human Development Federal Advocacy Committee Chair, discusses the success of building Cascades Park in an op-ed published in the Tallahassee Democrat. In this op-ed, he highlights how federal, state, local and private sectors can work together to build infrastructure that positively impacts an entire community. Both Deputy Mayor Pratt and Commissioner Ziffer urged Congress to partner with cities and invest in our vision to rebuild and reimagine America’s infrastructure.


Washington and Florida Op-Eds

Now more than ever, it’s imperative for us to continue to keep up our drumbeat that local leaders need a federal partner to invest in infrastructure. By writing op-eds, amplifying our message on social media, meeting with your Members of Congress in-district or hosting an infrastructure site visit, together, we can make a difference in moving a federal infrastructure plan forward. Visit NLC’s Rebuild With Us Take Action page to find all the resources you need to advocate for federal infrastructure investment this August recess.

Congress Moves Toward Conference on Farm Bill

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

Last week, the House and Senate named lawmakers to serve on the conference committee for the 2018 Farm Bill. The nine Senators (5 Republicans and 4 Democrats) and 47 Representatives (29 Republicans and 18 Democrats) will work out differences between the House’s Agriculture and Nutrition Act and the Senate’s Agriculture Improvement Act, with an eye toward completing the process and approving a bill before the current Farm Bill authorization expires on September 30. 

As the conference committee begins work, NLC sent a letter outlining local priorities for the bill, including: 

  • reinstating mandatory funding for rural development programs; 
  • increasing speed requirements for eligible broadband services and making “middle mile” broadband infrastructure eligible for subsidies; 
  • providing additional funding to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Employment and Training program; 
  • reauthorizing healthy food nutrition programs, such as the Seniors Farmers Market Nutrition Program; and 
  • allowing projects under the Regional Conservation Partnership Program to extend beyond the current five-year limit and including a requirement that at least 10 percent of all conservation program funding is used to promote water quality and quantity practices that protect drinking water. 

Additionally, NLC joined a letter focused on priorities under the Rural Development title of the Farm Bill. 

Key areas of negotiation between the House and Senate include policy issues such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program revisions and overall funding levels. Additionally, the House bill includes a provision that would preempt state and local control to set regulations on agricultural products shipped to their state, which NLC opposes.

USDA Seeks Comment on New Rural Broadband Pilot Program

Angelina Panettieri, 202.626.3196

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has released a notice seeking comment on rules and requirements for its planned $600 million rural broadband pilot program created by the Consolidated Budget Act of 2018. This program is expected to be a one-time funding opportunity and will include loans and/or grants for projects in areas with a population of 20,000 residents or less. Local governments are among the eligible recipients for funds. Some aspects of eligibility are dictated by the legislation, but USDA is seeking feedback on the following:

  1. Ways of evaluating a rural household's "sufficient access" to broadband e-Connectivity at speeds of 10 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream, and how broadband service affordability should be factored in.
  2. Best options to verify speeds of broadband service provided to rural households.
  3. Best leading indicators of the potential project benefits for rural industries such as agriculture, manufacturing, e-commerce, transportation, health care and education, using readily available public data.

The agency also stated that "[p]ublic input on methods to evaluate the viability of applications that include local utility partnership arrangements is also being sought."

Comments are due September 10, 2018. NLC plans to comment on this proceeding and will share eligibility information for the funding once it has been finalized and is made available.

FCC Votes to Uphold OTMR and Ban Moratoria on Wireless Siting

Angelina Panettieri, 202.626.3196

During the August Open Meeting of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Commissioners voted to approve a report and order on one-touch make-ready (OTMR) requirements and a declaratory ruling on state and local moratoria.

This item sets out an explicitly preemptive posture for the FCC on state and local regulations. With regards to moratoria, the declaratory order enacts an immediate blanket prohibition on all state and local government moratoria for telecommunications services and facilities deployment, and expands the definition of those covered moratoria. Under this change, providers who believe that a jurisdiction has an express or de facto moratoria in violation of the order can petition the FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau and Wireless Telecommunications Bureaus, which have been directed to expedite these kinds of challenges.

Commissioner Michael O'Rielly, in particular, made clear the intent to take more authority away from local governments in his comments. "Every ounce of Congressional authority provided to the Commission must be used as a counterforce against moratoriums, which is just another word for "mindless delay" or "extortion attempts to generate some local officials' wish list"," said O'Rielly. "And, the record is replete with examples of such out-of-bound practices, such as digital inclusion funds, that unnecessarily create political slush funds and raise the cost of service for consumers." This last remark was likely a shot at the City of San Jose, Calif., which recently struck a deal with three carriers to build the country's largest small cell deployment and establish a municipal digital inclusion fund to close the digital divide by providing more broadband coverage in underserved, low-income neighborhoods.

NLC released the following statement in response to the vote:

"The National League of Cities (NLC) is disappointed that the Commission chose to further preempt local authority with today's Report and Order.

NLC strongly disagrees with Commissioner Michael O'Rielly's characterizations of local governments and their associations as obstacles to broadband deployment. In fact, local governments share the Commission's goal of closing the digital divide. It is local innovative approaches, from investing in public broadband infrastructure to working with providers to address digital inequity in communities, that will allow for cutting-edge technology to be implemented equitably across the country. Cities must retain the flexibility to protect their residents' interests and ensure appropriate management of public property.

In our view, Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel's assessment that this decision on moratoria will lead to more, not less, litigation is accurate. Unelected officials in Washington do not know better than the mayors and councilmembers in cities and towns about how best to protect local needs.

NLC remains concerned by the expansive approach the Commission has taken to its interpretation of the law regarding preemption, and we believe that the Commission is overreaching its statutory authority."

Apply for a 2019 Federal Advocacy Committee

Avery Peters, 202.626.3020

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.

Leadership and membership applications are available now to serve on NLC's seven Federal Advocacy Committees. If you have an interest in a leadership appointment, please submit your application by October 8, 2018. All other membership applications are due November 30, 2018.

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 elected annually for reappointment via the 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

To access the application and learn more about the Federal Advocacy Committees and other networking Councils, click here.  

FRA Requests Input on Intercity Passenger Rail

Brittney Kohler, 202.626.3164

The Federal Rail Administration (FRA) is requesting cities’ input on the development of a data needs assessment for intercity passenger rail as required by Section 11313(a) of the FAST Act. The act requires the FRA to conduct a data assessment in consultation with local governments, the Surface Transportation Board, Amtrak, freight railroads, states, as well as regional business, tourism, and economic development agencies. 

The purpose of the needs assessment is to support the development of an efficient and effective intercity passenger rail network, as well as identify the data needed to conduct cost-effective modeling and analysis for intercity passenger rail development programs. This includes identifying limitations to the data available today and strategies to address those limitations. 

NLC welcomes feedback from all cities that have or would like to increase local intercity rail service. Submissions will be accepted until September 10.

HUD Offers Grants to Clean Up Lead-Based Paint Hazards

Michael Wallace, 202.626.3025

The U.S. Housing and Urban Development Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes (OLHCHH) provides grant funding to remediate lead and healthy home hazards in privately owned single family housing. An interactive webinar will be held on August 22at 2:00p.m. EDT to provide more about this funding opportunity.

To learn more about how to apply and use the funds that remain available to cities, contact Shannon Steinbauer at Shannon.e.steinbauer@hud.gov or 202.402.6885. For additional resources about the program and answers to frequently asked questions visit the OLHCHH website.

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