Federal Advocacy Update: Week of May 21, 2019

Several American flags flying at sunset.
Several American flags flying at sunset.

In this issue:


Congressional Leaders Negotiating to Avoid Massive FY20 Spending Cuts and Debt Default

Michael Wallace, 202.626.3025

The White House and congressional leaders have opened budget discussions for Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20). The two immediate tasks before them are reaching consensus on overall defense and non-defense discretionary spending levels and raising the federal debt limit to prevent the possibility of default on national debt. Failure on either task would significantly impact cities. Without a new spending agreement, federal funding for city priorities will certainly fall, and failure to act on the debt limit would lead to enormous economic uncertainty across the board.  

Congress must pass something to avoid budget austerity as required by sequestration. If they do nothing, the Administration will be required to implement $126 billion in spending cuts, which would result in a $71 billion reduction in defense spending and $55 billion reduction in domestic discretionary spending. Few, if any, members of Congress express support for cuts of the magnitude required by sequestration—so, a deal appears likely. It is less certain if a deal will take the form of a new spending agreement, which would open the possibility of increased funding for areas of need, or a continuing resolution that would generally hold FY19 funding levels in place for another year. Yet, another government shutdown remains a looming possibility.

The House Appropriations Committee made the first move this month by approving an overall allocation of $1.295 trillion in discretionary spending for FY20, which would permit modest increases for most federal agencies including a 7% increase for both the Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Appropriations bill and the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations bill. For cities, towns and villages facing growing demands for both housing and infrastructure, the proposed increases are a welcome development.

The Senate is continuing to review the President’s FY20 budget request with ongoing hearings featuring cabinet secretaries. Although few senators in either party have expressed support for the President’s budget proposal, Senate Republican leaders have not yet revealed a level of spending they would support for FY20.

NLC is continuing to track budget and appropriations developments on our website.  You can find the latest specific funding proposals by program here.


House Subcommittee Approves EECBG Reauthorization 

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

On May 16, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy approved legislation to reauthorize the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) program by voice vote. H.R. 2088, which was introduced earlier in the month and is sponsored by Representatives Greg Stanton (D-AZ-09) and Marc Veasey (D-TX-33), would reauthorize the program at $3.5 billion annually from 2021-2025. 

NLC supports this legislation and is circulating a Dear Colleague letter to secure additional cosponsors. NLC encourages its members to reach out to their member of Congress and invite them to cosponsor H.R. 2088. 

The EECBG program was first authorized in the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act. The program has provided funding to state, local, and tribal governments to undertake projects to reduce energy use, diversify energy supplies, and improve air quality and the environment. The program was initially authorized at $2 billion per year for five years beginning in 2008. In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included $3.5 billion for this program. Unfortunately, the program has not received any additional appropriated funds since 2009. 

EECBG helped state and local governments pursue a wide range of projects including energy retrofits of government buildings, deployment of LED street lighting, deployment of solar energy systems on public buildings, revision of building codes to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy, and installation of EV charging and alternative fuel pumps.  

HR 2088 makes one change to the original EECBG program to include promoting the use of alternative fuels through distributed resources, district heating and cooling systems, and infrastructure for delivering alternative fuels, such as electric vehicle infrastructure.  

The EECBG reauthorization bill was marked up along with a series of other energy bills, including H.R. 2041 to reauthorize the U.S. Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program, which helps improve the energy efficiency of low income households, and H.R. 1315 to establish a nationwide education and job training program for jobs in energy-related industries. The subcommittee approved a total of 10 bills, which all passed by voice vote. 

Several of the bills approved by the subcommittee are included in the committee’s broader infrastructure bill, the LIFT America Act (H.R. 2741), including the bills to reauthorize the EECBG and the Weatherization programs. H.R. 2741 is scheduled for a full committee hearing on May 22.  


Municipal Caucus Chairs Reintroduce Advance Refunding Bond Legislation

Brian Egan, 202.626.3107

On May 15, the chairs of the House Municipal Finance Caucus, Congressmen Ruppersberger (D-MD-02) and Stivers (R-OH-15), introduced the Investing in Our Communities Act (H.R. 2772). The bill restores the tax exemption on single use advance refunding bonds, which was axed in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. 

Prior to this tax reform, state and local governments were able to take advantage of advance refunding bonds to refinance outstanding bond debt prior to the bond’s call date. The tool allowed municipal governments to achieve lower interest rates and substantial savings, which could be reinvested in additional infrastructure or used to lower local tax rates. 

The National League of Cities (NLC) and the Public Finance Network (PFN) continue to push for reinstatement of advance refunding bonds and celebrate our municipal finance champions in Congress.

 
FCC Proposes Changes to OTARD Rules; Comments Due June 3

Angelina Panettieri, 202.626.3196

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed changes to its Over-the-Air Reception Devices (OTARD) rules that would further limit the amount of zoning oversight that local governments have over OTARD installation in their communities. OTARD rules apply to satellite dishes that are less than one meter in diameter, TV antennas, and wireless cable antennas. The original rules were intended to protect the ability of consumers to install satellite dishes and antennas on property that they own or rent, and prohibited local governments, community associations, and landlords from preventing these installations except for safety or historic preservation purposes.

The FCC’s proposed changes would allow “hub and relay” devices—that is, satellite dishes or antennas used to transmit and receive to multiple customers—to be covered by the OTARD preemptions. The change would provide wireless internet service providers (WISPs) with the same exemptions from zoning that satellite customers currently enjoy for their equipment. The FCC seeks comment on a number of issues related to the proposal, including the extent to which local governments currently impede the deployment of WISP infrastructure in their communities, whether existing size limitations for equipment should remain in rural or underserved areas, and whether the proposal would increases the competitiveness of WISPs. The FCC also notes that comments opposing its proposal should discuss what other measures the FCC should take to facilitate fixed wireless infrastructure deployment.

The proposal comes on the heels of the FCC’s 2018 small cell preemption rulemaking and could potentially cover that small cell equipment not included in that order by shielding small cell equipment on private property from local aesthetic restrictions through OTARD protections.
 
Comments on the proposal are due June 3, in WT Docket No. 19-71. Reply comments are due June 17. NLC plans to file in this proceeding. Commenting communities should consider including information about the extent to which WISPs are able to compete and provide service in their communities. They should also consider requesting clarification on the impact this rule change would have—for example, how many antennas could be allowed in a single location, what size that equipment could be, and what recourse local governments could have if WISPs use their ability under OTARD rules to automatically stay enforcement of local laws if they file a complaint with the FCC. 


Infrastructure Week Panels Shine Light on Water Infrastructure Needs, Innovations

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

On May 15, NLC partnered with the Value of Water Campaign on a briefing to examine local water infrastructure needs and how smart water solutions—like hardware, software, and analytics—are becoming more popular and necessary. The Future is Now: Smart Water Infrastructure session featured a cross-sector panel of leaders discussing the future of smart water infrastructure solutions—how they can be deployed to solve our most pressing water infrastructure challenges and the role policymakers can play in making those solutions a reality. 

Panelists explored how cities and water utilities can meet infrastructure needs of the future in a sustainable way by investing in technologies to improve system reliability, maintain rate affordability, and create process stability. As cities, towns and villages face a myriad of water infrastructure challenges—from aging infrastructure to climate change and workforce challenges—innovative solutions, like green infrastructure, can provide a multitude of community benefits. 

Opening the briefing, Corina Lopez, Vice Mayor of San Leandro, California, spoke about her city’s use of smart sewer technology to share data and track water levels. The city hopes to use the manhole sensors to identify where rainwater is getting into their system. This information will help San Leandro lower operating costs in the winter and increase their effluent quality during storms. The smart sewer pilot program allows the city to get information quickly and in real time if there is a backup or diversion during storms and helps ensure that the system is operating efficiently and effectively. 

On May 16, at a Bipartisan Policy Center briefing on EPA’s Role in Building Critical Infrastructure, the conversation picked up on many of the themes from the previous day: aging infrastructure, affordability and innovation. Our nation’s aging infrastructure costs cities billions in lost revenue—$14-15 billion annually due to leaking pipes and water main breaks. As infrastructure needs increase, maintaining affordable water rates has become a challenge for cities. Between 2000 and 2017 water prices grew by 140%, far outpacing the rate of inflation or other utility prices. Currently, 11% of Americans have water bills that are deemed unaffordable, in that they make up too large of a percent of their household income; that percentage is expected to climb to 35% soon. 

Integrated planning is another solution for cities to meet their water infrastructure needs in a more efficient manner through the sequencing and scheduling of projects. Investing in green infrastructure to manage stormwater, rather than gray infrastructure, can not only save a city money, but also provide other economic and health benefits such as increased tree canopy and reduced heat island effect. 

As with NLC’s Rebuild With Us infrastructure campaign, both panels made the case for a federal partner with local governments to upgrade, maintain, and build the necessary water infrastructure to meet the needs of communities for the 21st century. 


Local Leaders Call for Federal Broadband Support During Infrastructure Week

Angelina Panettieri, 202.626.3196


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During Infrastructure Week in Washington, DC, local leaders from cities, counties, and electric cooperatives called on Congress and the administration to boost and improve federal broadband infrastructure investment. Speakers highlighted recent research by NLC indicating that disparities in broadband availability between rural and urban communities help to drive some of the economic divide between the two, and improving broadband connectivity helps to close the economic gaps. 

Corina Lopez, Vice Mayor of the City of San Leandro, California, and Vice Chair of NLC’s Information Technology and Communications Committee, called on the federal government to fix its broadband coverage maps. “The current maps are inadequate, and we base policy decisions on them,” she said. “We know our neighborhoods and communities. We know where the needs are. We are not at the table enough when the information is shared.” 

In addition to federal programs designed to drive private broadband investment, speakers cheered supports for alternatives, such as municipal broadband infrastructure and rural electric cooperatives providing broadband to their customers. They highlighted the economic and equity benefits to broadband infrastructure in rural communities, particularly in advancing access to healthcare, education, and employment for rural residents.

To watch a video of the panel discussion, visit NLC on Facebook.


NLC Hails Tax Exempt Bonds at Infrastructure Week Event in Los Angeles

Brian Egan, 202.626.3107

NLC’s First Vice President, Councilmember Joe Buscaino of Los Angeles, joined representatives from the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) on Friday to round out our Infrastructure Week programming. Buscaino welcomed more the 7,000 government finance officers convening in Los Angeles for the 113th GFOA convention, while also hailing the role of tax-exempt municipal bonds in financing critical pieces of our nation’s infrastructure. 

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Attendees gathered at the construction site for the 6th Street Viaduct Bridge. The original bridge was torn down in 2016 due to its deteriorating state after 84 years of service. The project is a $482 million venture to replace one of the City’s most iconic pieces of infrastructure with a new state of the art bridge. Tax-exempt bonds as well as funding from federal, state and local partners have allowed the city to carry out this necessary replacement project. Buscaino concluded by stating that no infrastructure tool “is more important than the tax-exempt municipal bond,” and he made a plug for recently introduced legislation that would restore the tax exemption on advance refunding bonds.


Register for NLC’s 2019 Summer Board and Leadership Meeting

Avery Peters, 202.626.3020

Registration for the National League of Cities 2019 Summer Board and Leadership Meeting is open! Join your colleagues June 25-27 in Indianapolis, Indiana, by registering here.

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The meeting will take place at the Indianapolis Marriot downtown—350 Maryland Street, Indianapolis, IN 46225. After you complete the registration, you will receive a confirmation email with information on housing and reservations.

For registration instructions, go here. To register now, click here

If you have questions for the following reasons, contact the relevant staff member:

  • Board of Directors - Carla Smith
    • Activities start Tuesday, June 25 afternoon; end Wednesday June 26 evening.
  • Advisory Council - Jim Brooks
    • Activities start Tuesday, June 25 evening; end Wednesday, June 26 evening.
  • Federal Advocacy Committees - Avery Peters
    • Activities start Tuesday, June 25 evening; end Thursday, June 27 afternoon.
  • Council on Race, Equity and Leadership - Kiera White 
    • Activities start Tuesday, June 25 evening; end Thursday, June 27 afternoon.
  • Council on Youth, Education, and Families - Sharie Wood
    • Activities start Tuesday, June 25 morning; end Tuesday, June 25 evening.
  • Large Cities Council - Timothy Evans
    • Activities start Tuesday, June 25 noon; end Tuesday, June 25 evening.
  • Military Communities Council - Elisha Harig-Blaine
    • Activities start Wednesday, June 26 morning; end Wednesday, June 26 noon.
  • State League Steering Committee - Bryan Griffith
    • Activities start Tuesday, June 25 afternoon; end Wednesday, June 26 evening.
  • University Communities Council - Katrina Washington
    • Activities start Tuesday, June 25 noon; end Tuesday, June 25 evening.
  • General Inquiries - Lauren Ryan
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