Federal Advocacy Update: Week of February 13, 2018

Inside of Capitol Building Dome
Inside of Capitol Building Dome

In this issue:


Congressional Bipartisan Budget Act Preempts WH Budget; Is a Major Win for Cities

Michael Wallace, 202-626-3025

The first federal budget proposal of the Trump Administration, for fiscal year 2018, recommended an unprecedented $54 billion in cuts to federal funding for domestic programs important to cities and towns. In response, NLC quickly organized city leaders to #FightTheCuts. Last week, Congress validated our efforts by formally rejecting the Administration’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget proposal, and preempting any cuts that may be proposed in the FY19 proposal. They did so by approving the “The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018”, which increases the overall amount of federal funding available for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 by nearly $300 billion above levels otherwise required by sequestration.

In addition to rejecting the overall funding cut sought by the Administration, Congressional leaders highlighted several areas important to cities and towns for funding increases. Specifics of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 include:

  • An increase in non-defense discretionary spending by $63 billion in FY18 and $68 billion in FY19, for a total of $579 billion for FY18 and $597 billion for FY19. This increase will help cities protect priority programs like CDBG, TIGER, and infrastructure programs.
  • An increase in defense spending by $80 billion in FY18 and $85 billion in FY19, for a total of $629 billion for FY18 and $647 billion for FY19. Total defense funding will rise above $700 billion each year when accounting for off-budget and emergency spending.
  • An agreement on specific set-asides important to cities including:
    • $6 billion to fight the opioid epidemic and improve mental health;
    • $20 billion for roads, rural broadband and other infrastructure projects;
    • $5.8 billion for child care development grants;
    • $4 billion to rebuild veteran’s hospitals and clinics;
    • $2 billion for the National Institutes of Health;
    • $4 billion for college affordability programs;
    • $7 billion for community health centers over two years; and
    • $89.3 billion in additional disaster relief.
  • An extension of the authorization for the Children's Health Insurance Program for 10 years through FY27
  • A suspension of the debt ceiling through March 1, 2019 to protect the federal government from risk of default.

With a two-year budget agreement in place, the next step for Congress is to return to the appropriations process. City leaders should expect Congress to unveil FY18 funding for specific federal programs sometime in the next six weeks.

At the same time, the White House has delivered to Congress the Presidents FY19 budget proposal.  As a result, Congress is currently in the extremely unusual situation of considering funding for two different fiscal years at the same time.

NLC President Mark Stodola, mayor, Little Rock, Arkansas, released a statement on behalf of NLC condemning the Administrations decision to release a FY2019 Budget Proposal that fails to honor the funding levels established in the bipartisan budget agreement approved by Congress, saying in part:

“For the second year in a row, this administration has released a budget proposal that would seriously damage the well being of America's cities, towns and villages. Programs that invest in cities — including CDBG, TIGER, LIHEAP, and 21st Century Community Learning Centers — are essential to the prosperity, health and safety of our residents. Rather than honor Congress' bipartisan funding agreement, the White House has only offered a roadmap for disinvestment and disengagement with cities and local governments.”

Similar to last year’s proposal, which Congress roundly rejected, the President’s FY19 Budget recommends $3 trillion in domestic cuts to programs over 10 years. To achieve that, the President’s budget recommends eliminating dozens of important programs including CDBG, TIGER, LIHEAP, funding for after-school program, and more.

Thanks to the two-year bipartisan budget agreement, cities are in a much better position to fight the proposed cuts compared to this point last year. To learn more about the status of the federal budget and appropriations process, and to see the cuts proposed by the President for FY2019, click here.


City Leaders Join President for Infrastructure Proposal Release

Brittney Kohler, 202.626.3164

On February 12, the National League of Cities and mayors from seven cities joined the President and key Administration officials for the release of the President’s infrastructure proposal. Mayor George Flaggs Jr. of Vicksburg, Miss., Mayor Stephen K. Benjamin of Columbia, S.C., Mayor Carolyn Goodman of Las Vegas, Nev., Mayor Bradley Hart of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Mayor Jeff Longwell of Wichita, Kan., Mayor Vi Lyles of Charlotte, N.C., and Mayor of Betsy Price of Fort Worth, Tex. joined the conversation and expressed both the need for infrastructure investment and ideas of how to make the process better for cities.

In response to the meeting, NLC CEO and Executive Director Clarence E. Anthony stated,

"With the release of this plan, the White House will hopefully start a domino effect in Washington for Congress to pull together a bipartisan bill that works with cities to rebuild America's infrastructure. Congress must step up to join cities in the fight to repair our nation's crumbling infrastructure and build for 2050, instead of simply fixing 1950. Now is the right time for Congress to join us in rebuilding national networks and core infrastructure that delivers what Americans want – great infrastructure that works for them and the economy."

Infrastructure Event with President Trump

The President now passes his playbook to Congress to build a bipartisan bill that brings “at least $1.5 trillion in new investment over the next 10 years, shorten the process for approving projects to 2 years or less, address unmet rural infrastructure needs, empower State and local authorities, and train the American workforce of the future.”

Although we see many shared goals between the administration’s proposal and cities guiding principles for rebuilding and reimagining America’s infrastructure – gaining more locally-driven projects, building a trained workforce and bringing broadband to rural areas – a robust infrastructure package will require a strong federal-local partnership that invests more and utilizes that investment more efficiently. We look forward to working with Congress to build a bipartisan infrastructure plan that works for cities.


Deadline Extended: Join NLC for Capitol Hill Advocacy Day During CCC

Ashley Smith, 202-626-3094

Make your time at NLC’s Congressional City Conference count by meeting with your congressional delegation during the final day of the conference. NLC’s Capitol Hill Advocacy Day provides city leaders with an opportunity to build relationships with your federal legislators – allowing you to be an effective advocate for your community and cities nationwide throughout the year. Included in your conference registration, this day on Capitol Hill gives local leaders the opportunity to meet with your Members of Congress and their staff to advocate for city priorities, share your city’s story and how decisions made by Congress impact your community and network with fellow city advocates.

Capitol Hill Advocacy Day Photo

Visit ccc.nlc.org for more information and to register today!


Disaster Aid Funding Included in the Senate Continuing Resolution Deal

Yucel Ors, 202.626.3124

The budget deal and the continuing resolution that Congress passed last week included $89.3 billion in emergency supplemental appropriations to help states, communities, businesses, and individuals respond and recover from 2017 hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters.

Highlights of the supplemental appropriations package include:

  • $23.5 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency Disaster Relief Fund to support response and recovery efforts, including assistance to state, territory, possession, and local governments, to cover total estimated needs for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and FY18 estimated needs for Hurricane Maria.
  • $17.39 billion for infrastructure projects to reduce the risk of future damages from flood and storm events.
  • $28 billion for the Department of Housing and Urban Development Community Development Fund to help communities rebuild damaged homes, buildings, and infrastructure.
  • $1.65 billion to the Small Business Administration to further support the disaster loan program, and $600 million to the Department of Commerce for Economic Development Administration grants to support immediate relief efforts and long-term recovery projects in communities affected by recent disasters.
  • $2.46 billion to restart operations at elementary and secondary schools affected by the hurricanes and wildfires, and for temporary assistance for schools, including private schools outside of affected areas, serving elementary and secondary school students displaced by the disaster

The disaster aid package is intended to help cities in Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Puerto Rico, and California recover and rebuild from the devastation caused by the hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and the wildland fires in 2017.

A summary of the disaster assistance aid package can be downloaded here.


What a Citizenship Question on the Census Would Mean for Cities

Brian Egan, 202.626.3107

There is no question that America’s city leaders share Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s commitment to a full and fair 2020 Census. Census data is vital to cities for uses including regional planning, economic research, public health initiatives, and allocating more than $600 billion in federal funding to state and local governments.

But because city leaders understand the importance of an accurate count, they also recognize that the upcoming 2020 Census faces unique challenges — and that the stakes are high.

An accurate count is of the utmost importance to city governments when it comes to planning, research, federal funding and so much more. Last week, NLC sent a letter to Secretary Ross, who has ultimate say in whether or not the question is added, asking him to reject a proposal to add any untested questions to the census. Over the next two years, NLC will continue to work with the Bureau and the Department of Commerce to ensure the 24th Decennial Census is a yet another success.

To learn more about how the 2020 census will impact cities, visit NLC’s blog CitiesSpeak.


House Committee Tackles Broadband Ahead of Anticipated Infrastructure Plan

Angelina Panettieri, 202.626.3196

Last month, in anticipation of a debut of the White House’s infrastructure legislative proposal, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology held a hearing highlighting over twenty bills introduced to improve broadband access and affordability. During the hearing, witnesses and committee members disagreed over the best policy approaches to improve Americans’ access to broadband, and whether the best approaches should focus on deregulation and regulatory streamlining, or on direct public investment in broadband infrastructure.

One witness, Joanne Hovis, the CEO of the Coalition for Local Internet Choice, urged Congress to partner with cities, rather than preempt them, in efforts to expand broadband access. “One-size-fits-all approaches will not bridge the digital divide,” Hovis told committee members. “Legislation or regulatory activity that purports to remove so-called barriers like local processes and fees may make for more profitable carriers in well-served areas. But they won’t be sufficient to incent deployment in rural and urban broadband deserts.”

During the hearing, committee leadership stated that they intend to mark up the broadband bills in the near future. A full list of legislation is available on the hearing page, along with a recording of the hearing and witness testimonies, but here are some of the most relevant bills for cities:

  • H.R. 4814 / S. 742 - Community Broadband Act – This bill would guarantee that municipalities and other local governments retain the right to build their own broadband networks and prevent state preemption of municipal broadband. NLC Position: Support
  • H.R. 2870 / S. 1013 - Gigabit Opportunity Act – This bill would tie tax breaks to local governments "streamlining" rights of way and zoning requirements for wireless facilities siting. NLC Position: Oppose
  • H.R. 4800 - Broadband Conduit Deployment Act of 2018 - This bill mandates dig once policies to require the inclusion of broadband conduit during the construction of road projects that receive federal funding, lowering the cost to deploy broadband in nearby areas. NLC Position: Support
  • H.R. 4798 - Inventory of Assets for Communications Facilities Act – This bill would require the General Services Administration and NTIA to ensure federal agencies create an inventory of assets that can be used to attach or install broadband infrastructure. Local governments would be able to contribute to and use this inventory, but would lose access if they do not maintain current data on the facilities they own. NLC Position: Monitor/ Tentative Support
  • H.R. 4858 - Clearing Local Impediments Makes Broadband Open to New Competition and Enhancements (Climb Once) Act – This bill would ensure federal laws don’t hinder local “climb once” policies that allow for a list of pre-approved contractors pole owners agree on to handle make-ready work. NLC Position: Support
  • H.R. 4810 - Making Available Plans to Promote Investment in Next Generation Networks without Overbuilding and Waste (Mapping Now) Act – This bill directs NTIA to update and improve the National Broadband Map. NLC Position: Support
  • H.R. 4813 - Wireless Internet Focus on Innovation in Spectrum Technology for Unlicensed Deployment (WiFi STUDY) Act – This bill directs the General Services Administration to study the role of unlicensed spectrum and the potential for gigabit wifi service in spectrum bands below 6 GHz. NLC Position: Support
  • H.R. 4817 - Promoting Exchanges for Enhanced Routing of Information so Networks are Great (PEERING) Act – This bill authorizes an NTIA matching grant program to promote creation and expansion of peering centers and authorizes e-Rate and Telehealth USF programs to use grant funds to obtain connections to peering facilities. NLC Position: Support

Ninth Circuit Rules Against Local Government in Groundwater Discharge Case

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

On February 1, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that any discharge of pollutants to Waters of the United States through groundwater (or any other medium) that is “fairly traceable” to a point source falls within the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program and requires a Clean Water Act permit. This ruling could impact water supply entities and municipalities in the west, especially those that rely on groundwater storage or use retention basins to hold or treat water.

In 2016, NLC joined an International Municipal Lawyers Association amicus brief in the case Hawaii Wildlife Fund et al. v. County of Maui arguing that groundwater is neither a “Waters of the U.S.” nor a point source and that expanding the NPDES program to include the migration of pollutants through groundwater is an expansion of the existing Clean Water Act regulatory program.

The case involves the County of Maui’s Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility and its longstanding practice of disposing of treated effluent by injecting it into four wells. The Hawaii Wildlife Fund challenged the practice claiming that because the injected wastewater eventually migrated through groundwater into the Pacific Ocean, the county was required to obtain an NPDES permit.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in Hawaii Wildlife Fund v. County of Maui could greatly expand the types of facilities required to obtain NPDES permits, including water supply entities and municipalities that are pursuing groundwater recharge projects, rely on groundwater storage, or use retention basins to hold or treat water.

The Court also found that the county was liable for violating the Clean Water Act even though the State of Hawaii had declined to issue the county a permit.

NLC has signed onto amicus briefs in two similar cases that test this “conduit” theory of liability that are pending before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (Upstate Forever and Savannah Riverkeeper v. Kinder Morgan Energy Partners) and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals (26 Crown Associates v. Greater New Haven Regional Water Pollution Control Authority, City of New Haven). The possibility of a split circuit court decision sets up the possibility of the U.S. Supreme Court taking up this issue at some point.


FEMA Announces Funding Opportunity for the Fire Prevention and Safety Grant Program

Yucel Ors, 202.626.3124

The application period for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) FY17 Fire Prevention and Safety (FP&S) Program opened on Monday, February 12, and will close on Friday, March 16, 2018 at 5:00 PM ET. The funding opportunity includes $34.5 million for fire prevention and firefighters' health and safety activities under the FY17 FP&S Grant Program.

The announcement and technical assistance documents for this program are available at www.grants.gov, and www.fema.gov/fire-prevention-safety-grants. If you have any questions, please contact FEMA Intergovernmental Affairs at 202-646-3444.


SLLC Supreme Court Midterm Webinar

Ashley Smith, 202-626-3094

States and local governments anxiously await the Supreme Court's decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair. In this case the Court may allow states and local governments to require retailers with no in-state physical presence to collect sales tax. Since last fall the Court has also agreed to rule on the third travel ban, another partisan gerrymandering case, and a number of First Amendment free speech cases. And the Court has already decided two cases where the District of Columbia was a party.

Join us for a webinar to discuss these and other cases of interest to states and local governments with Loren L. AliKhan, Acting Solicitor General of the District of Columbia, who argued one of the cases involving D.C., Charles Rothfeld, Mayer Brown, who wrote the SLLC amicus brief in one of the free speech cases, and Kenneth Jost, author of Supreme Court Yearbook and Jost on Justice.

Date: March 15, 2018

Time: 1:00 PM Eastern

Register: www.naco.org/events/sllc-midterm-review

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