National League of Cities Announces 2016 Federal Priorities
Nearly seven years after the Great Recession, many of you are reporting improvement in your local economy. Job growth, increasing residential property values, and retail sector health are helping to put cities on a stronger fiscal footing. Despite cuts in federal and state aid, you continue to raise the bar, increasing citizen engagement and government transparency and improving the quality and accessibility of city services.
However, we know there is another side to this story. While we see an economy that continues to outpace the rest of the world in innovation and entrepreneurship, we also see one weighed down by slow productivity growth and stagnant wages. Critical infrastructure across the nation is in a state of neglect and disrepair. Rising home prices are helping replenish local tax bases, but at the same time exacerbate the affordable housing crisis.
Cities work best when the economy works for every resident. True to the founding principles of this organization more than 90 years ago, we believe when the most trusted level of government has the authority to implement locally-driven solutions, our communities grow stronger. We also believe a well-functioning partnership among all levels of government is imperative.
NLC's 2016 federal priorities reflect important issues around the economy, infrastructure and public safety, providing a framework to empower cities to address the challenges we face and move our nation forward. Specifically, NLC calls on Congress and the administration to:
- Close the online sales tax loophole
Today's marketplace offers more choices than ever. But simply put, the playing field isn't level for all sellers - and states and localities are unable to collect more than a fraction of the revenue that's owed. Over 23 billion dollars a year are lost. That's why we're calling on Congress to close the online sales tax loophole by passing e-fairness legislation.
- Protect the tax exemption for municipal bonds
Protecting the tax exemption for municipal bonds is critical to local government's ability to respond to community needs. If the tax exemption is eliminated or limited, states and localities will be forced to pay more to finance projects, leading to less infrastructure investment, fewer jobs and a greater burden on local residents in the form of higher taxes and fees.
- Reform federal sentencing
We urge Congress to reform the federal criminal justice system to allow for greater flexibility in sentencing and increased resources to support re-entry programs. Reentry programs tailored to the specific needs of our communities are essential to reduce recidivism and bolster the success of ex-offenders. We call on Congress to pass the "Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015" (S. 2123), which adjusts prison sentences for certain non-violent drug offenders, targets violent criminals, and supports recidivism reduction programs. We also support the Second Chance Reauthorization Act (S. 1513/H.R. 3406), which would provide resources to local governments to improve outcomes for individuals returning to communities reducing in recidivism rates.
- Reauthorize the EPA brownfields program
Many local governments, out of necessity, take ownership of brownfields properties. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Brownfields Program provides grants and technical assistance to communities and other stakeholders, giving them the resources they need to prevent, assess, safely clean up, and sustainably reuse brownfields. The EPA Brownfields Program is vital for local governments in aiding their redevelopment efforts and supporting the productive reuse of property which otherwise remains a blight on the community. To strengthen the program, NLC calls on Congress to expand liability protections for local governments that acquire contaminated brownfields sites but had no involvement in the contamination, as well as increase the assistance available under the program.
In addition to these priorities, we will monitor and advocate for the interests of cities on other important issues. In 2016, NLC will work to:
- Revise the "Waters of the U.S." rule
We support congressional efforts to direct the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to create a more open and transparent rulemaking process with input from all levels of government. Cities need federal regulators to conduct a comprehensive regulatory and economic impact analysis on how the rule will impact each Clean Water Act program. We also support revising the rule in a way that addresses lingering concerns regarding the certainty and clarity of the terms of the existing rule.
- Ensure swift implementation of the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act
The legislation may have passed, but the work has just begun. We are working closely with the U.S. Department of Transportation to ensure the FAST Act provides local leaders with the greatest possible control over how federal funding is spent in their regions.
We'll work hard throughout the year to move this agenda forward, but we need you to be involved. Cities are strong when we stand together. I encourage you to register now for the Congressional City Conference, March 5-9 in Washington, D.C. Join thousands of city leaders to hear from federal policy makers and educate members of Congress about the needs of cities.