NLC Assesses Progress of 2002 Advocacy Agenda. (Analysis)
Whitman, Cameron, Nation's Cities Weekly
The second session of the 107th Congress accomplished little and has left the nation's cities and towns uncertain about what, if any, future assistance they can count on from Washington to help them meet new homeland security challenges.
Only two of the 13 "must-pass" appropriations bills met the September 30, 2002, deadline for passage.
The Department of Defense and its military construction programs have up-to-date funding levels for 2003 while all other programs are funded at FY2002 levels under a continuing resolution (CR), which expires January 11, 2003.
This method of funding 2002 municipal priority programs is a mixed blessing. For example, the CR continues full funding for the Local Law Enforcement Block Grant, the Community Oriented Police program and the Highway Trust Fund even though President Bush's 2003 budget request would virtually eliminate these two popular public safety programs and would cut $4 billion from the Highway Trust Fund. For now these programs arc adequately funded.
The CR creates a disadvantage for many of NLC's 2002 priorities, particularly protecting the homeland.
New programs proposed for 2003 and existing programs seeking new funding are out of luck since Congress failed to finalize eleven 2003 appropriations bills. For example, the $3.5 billion First Responder Initiative promised in the president's budget has not been authorized or funded.
There is also no money to reimburse states and localities the $22 million per month owed them by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for "temporarily" providing their law enforcement personnel at the nation's 429 commercial airports.
To add to these burdens, Congress passed a new port security bill just before leaving town without any funding at all. Meanwhile Amtrak is limping along without the increased funding it needs to operate and reorganize.
After months of contentious debate before the election, the lame duck Congress returned to Washington to authorize the new Department of Homeland Security and to complete the conference report on terrorism reinsurance.
Funding for the new department, the first responder initiative and other homeland security related programs will occur sometime next year.
And more bad news for cities: In recent days President Bush has recently insisted that the incoming Republican leaders in the Senate must cut $10 billion in discretionary funding from the eleven 2003 appropriations bills left unfinished.
This means that many of the cuts proposed in Bush's 2003 budget request will probably be upheld.
NLC 2002 Priorities
This article provides a wrap up of the second session of the 107th Congress focusing on National League of Cities 2002 priorities, which include: 1) protecting the homeland, 2) sustaining federal support for critical municipal programs, 3) protecting local revenue and taxing authority, 4) ensuring racial justice and equality, 5) investing in children and 6) balancing international trade agreements with local authority.
NLC has had considerable success on these priorities but there is more work to be done in the 108th Congress.
Progress on Protecting the Homeland
NLC made progress on a number of initiatives designed to enhance the country's ability to prepare for and respond to terrorism.
Department of Homeland Security
The Congress agreed to authorize the NLC-supported Department of Homeland Security with virtually no funding. It may take three to five years to consolidate and coordinate the responsibilities of some 22 government agencies including the Customs and Immigration and Naturalization Services, the Secret Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Coast Guard, the Border Patrol, Transportation Security Administration, etc.
First Responder Planning Grants
The first funding for the $3.5 billion First Responder Initiative, $100 million, was included in the 2002 supplemental. It will be distributed to the states in late December and 75 percent must eventually go to local jurisdictions. These outright grants are to help in the development of comprehensive, statewide coordinated, terrorism preparedness and response plans that deal with training, equipment and exercises.
Also in this supplemental, $25 million was made available to cities and states for Citizen Corps activities and training for Community Emergency Response Teams across the country. This funding is in anticipation that Congress will authorize and fund the $3.5 billion First Responder Initiative.
Bioterrorism, Port Security and Pipeline Safety
Passage of the Bioterrorism Act of 2002 provided $160 million to local jurisdictions to conduct vulnerability assessments, revise emergency response plans and provide security upgrades for drinking water systems.
Passage of the NLC-supported Maritime Transportation Security Act authorizes threat assessment grants to local port authorities, but unfortunately, Congress could not agree on how to fund the important new port security requirements.
After years of hard work, Congress approved the NLC-supported Pipeline Safety Improvement Act (HR 3609) to strengthen the nation's pipeline safety laws.
HR 3609 reauthorizes the nation's pipeline safety program through 2006. It mandates periodic inspections of all pipelines, increases civil penalties for violations, strengthens operator qualifications, expands protections for whistleblowers and authorizes new funding for research and technology programs.
Local Law Enforcement at Commercial Airports
At NLC's request, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta instructed the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to stop threatening to close commercial airports as a means of forcing local jurisdictions to provide their local law enforcement personnel for security at these airports.
Also, afar considerable pressure from NLC and others, the TSA agreed to deputize for liability local law enforcement officers assigned to the nation's 429 commercial airports and to agree to reimburse local jurisdictions for their costs.
In consultation with NLC and other state and local public interest groups, the White House Office of Homeland Security developed a Homeland Security Advisory System (5-level alert). However, the Office of Homeland Security gave bruited guidance on how to adapt it locally.
The administration's proposal to create a Terrorism Information and Prevention System (TIPS) was blocked due to widespread opposition from NLC, civil rights groups and privacy advocates. NLC also successfully derailed a Justice Department directive that would have given local police the authority to enforce immigration law.
This was accomplished by working with the Department of Justice and by expressing our strong opposition to the White House.
More Work to Do on Protecting the Homeland
The administration and Congress failed to provide the promised $3.5 billion first responder funding directly to cities or by any delivery system, and created the organizational structure for a new Homeland Security Department with virtually no funding.
Also, NLC did not succeed in its efforts to pass the Homeland Security Information Act, which that would have required direct communications between federal agencies and local authorities.
Critical Municipal Programs
Highway Trust Fund
Thanks to support from NLC and multiple coalitions, the House and Senate passed legislation to reinstate $4.4 billion of the President's proposed $8.7 billion cut in the Highway Trust Fund, authorizing $27.7 billion in 2003 instead of the $23.3 billion proposed by the President. However, Bush is expected to force appropriators to cut billions from this fund when they return in January 2003.
American Dream Downpayment Act of 2002
NLC succeeded in blocking funding for the administration's only initiative in this area, the American Dream Downpayment Act of 2002 (S. 2584 and H.R. 4446). The legislation would have authorized $200 million of the HOME Investment Partnership program to be set aside specifically for downpayment assistance while eroding local flexibility in a block grant program.
The Senate VA HUD Appropriations bill did not include any funding for the administration's initiative.
Assistance to Dislocated Workers
During the debate and votes on the President's Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), NLC worked to protect local authority in international agreements and to get included trade adjustment provisions that will provide 65 percent of the cost for dislocated workers' health insurance for one year.
And in another unemployment related issue, Congress provided an additional 13 weeks of unemployment assistance (H.R.3090) to workers dislocated due directly or indirectly to September 11, 2001.
Amtrak Stays Afloat
With pressures from NLC and dozens of other advocates for national passenger rail service, the President and the Congress agreed to provide $205 million in the 2002 supplemental appropriations to help Amtrak stay afloat until FY2003. However, Bush is opposed to providing the $1.2 billion in 2003 that Amtrak says is needed to provide services while it reorganizes.
More Work for Critical Municipal Programs
2003 Appropriations Still on Hold
No 2003 appropriations were passed to fund any of NLC's priority programs. Currently all funding is provided through a continuing resolution (CR) based on 2002 funding levels. This does not fund any of the new NLC-supported homeland security proposals.
Local Law Enforcement at Airports Costs Cities
The House, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and airport administrators have proposed eliminating a security requirement to federalize law enforcement at the nation's 429 commercial airports. This could leave states and localities with serious exposure to liability and an unfunded mandate of approximately $22 million per month.
NLC continues to work to resolve this issue.
No Final Commitment to Water Infrastructure Investments
Both House and Senate committees reported legislation to enhance the federal financial commitment to municipal drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. However, the legislation died because of controversial new mandates accompanying the newly authorized funding. Since both Congress and the administration now acknowledge the major water infrastructure-funding gap ($23 billion a year), NLC will be working with the Water Infrastructure Network coalition to pass legislation on this issue in the 108th Congress.
Federal Housing Trust Fund Fails to Advance
Despite the national shortage of affordable housing and the downturn in the economy, no significant housing or economic development legislation was enacted by the 107th Congress.
NLC worked with a large housing coalition to develop an amendment authorizing a federal Housing Trust Fund, which was blocked by the House Republican leadership.
Highway Trust Fund Doesn't Get Ethanol Tax
After being held up for more than a year, the House/Senate conference failed to pass a final energy reform bill (S. 519 and H.R. 4). Though it came to naught, NLC succeeded in getting language considered by the conference that would have authorized moving ethanol taxes to the Highway Trust Fund to bring in an additional $400 million per year.
Protecting Local Revenues and Taxing Authority
Do No Harm
More often than not, NLC has to follow a "do no harm" approach as our lobbyists work to reduce regulatory burdens and to block federal initiatives harmful to cities.
For example on the regulatory front, we worked successfully this year to get the IRS to revise its rulemaking regarding advanced long-term contracts for natural gas purchases funded with municipal bonds, preventing adverse bond rulings for municipal gas utilities.
The agency had begun several audits of municipal gas utility transactions, claiming that such advance prepayments for natural gas resulted in arbitrage violations of municipal bonds.
NLC, working with a coalition of local interest groups, has also filed comments opposing a Federal Communications Commission declaratory ruling changing the definition of cable modem from a cable service to an information service. If allowed to stand, this regulatory action would eliminate local governments' authority to control their rights of way and to charge for use of this valuable citizen-owned asset.
Collective Bargaining Blocked
With a lot of help from the state municipal leagues and despite aggressive lobbying in both the House and Senate by the International Association of Fire Fighters, NLC successfully blocked a collective bargaining proposal (H.R. 1475) which would have given all state and local emergency personnel the right to select a bargaining agent to negotiate with their government employers.
Telecommunication Industry Threatens Local Authority
Working with other state and local organizations, NLC blocked a telecommunication industry move to prolong the moratorium on taxing Internet access and to redefine business activity taxes in H.R. 2526.
This bill would have removed the responsibility of most state and local businesses to pay business activity taxes and could have cost more than $9 billion in annual revenue losses.
In another telecommunication industry effort to discredit cities, NLC successfully lobbied the membership of the National Association of Regional Utility Commissioners (NARUC) to prevent its endorsement of a telecommunications white paper blaming cities for slow deployment of broadband.
In a case important to municipal authority, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently reversed a federal district court decision that a city's franchise transfer decision is essentially legislative in nature and entitled to broad deference by the courts.
The court found that local governments are empowered to examine the impact of the sales prices paid for cable on future rates paid by consumers. It also clarified that the parent company's finances are a legitimate issue and local governments can deny a cable franchise transfer based on this. The case was Charter Communications v. County of Santa Cruz and NLC submitted an amicus in support of Santa Cruz.
Energy Legislation Blocked
NLC successfully prevented the passage of comprehensive energy legislation that attempted to include an electricity restructuring provision. This would have authorized the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to control the siting of transmitting utilities to join a Regional Transmission Organization (RTO); repealed FERC's authority to review mergers; expanded FERC authority over public power systems; required FERC to conduct a rulemaking on incentive and performance-based transmission rates; and weakened consumer protection laws such as the Public Utility Holding Company Act (PUHCA).
Faith-Based Initiative Fails to Progress in the Senate
NLC helped slow progress in the Senate of the administration's faith-based initiative (S. 1924, the CARE Act) by working with Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) to draft and build support for amendments to the Act that would protect state and local civil rights laws from preemption by the Act.
More Work to Do on
Congress and the administration failed to propose and appropriate enough funding for the Census Bureau's American Community Survey so it could develop a new methodology to report accurate Census numbers annually to eliminate the need to use the Census long form in 2010.
Ensuring Racial Justice and Equality
There were no legislative victories related to this priority except for the introduction of strong predatory lending legislation in both the House and the Senate, which was not acted on. NLC also actively supported Hate Crimes and profiling bills, which made no progress this year and are not expected to have any legs in the new 108th Congress.
Investing in Children
Children's issues appeared to be very low-priority in the 107th Congress. Many proposals were introduced to reauthorize the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) Block Grant and the Child Care Development Block Grants (CCDBG). While there was much contentious debate, there was no final action on these two pieces of legislation.
There were two major TANF proposals on the table H.R. 4337, the Republican's legislation passed by the House that closely mirrors President Bush's welfare proposal and The Work, Opportunity, and Responsibility for Kids (WORK) Act of 2002 passed by the Senate Finance Committee in June. The TANF block grant was scheduled to expire on September 30th 2002 so Congress voted to extend the program in its current form through March 31st, 2003.
This is in anticipation that Congress will address TANF reauthorization when the 108th Congress convenes in January. Sources say that these two pieces of legislation will be the framework for bills in the 108th Congress.
The foremost issue in the reauthorization of the Child Care Development Block Grant was funding. In his FY 2003 budget proposal President Bush did not increase the funding for child care. However, H.R. 4337 provided an additional $1 billion in child care funds, a victory for the National League of Cities. NLC was further pleased to learn that the WORK Act provided an additional $5.5 billion in child care money Unfortunately, neither bill progressed. There is talk that these reauthorizations and that of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) will move forward when the 108th Congress convenes.
Balancing International Agreements with Local Authority
NLC was successful in getting Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) to introduce our amendment to the `fast track' Trade Promotion Authority bill and to have our issues debated on the Senate floor.
The amendment would have limited foreign investors to no greater legal rights than U.S. citizens under the Constitution, directed U.S. trade negotiators to observe the principles of the Due Process Clause of the Constitution, and ensured that "mere diminution in the value" of private property does not constitute expropriation (a "takings" claim).
Although this amendment was tabled in the Senate, the U.S. Trade Representative's Office (USTR) has included the "no greater rights provision" in its negotiations of trade agreements with Singapore, Chile and in the Free Trade Agreement for the Americas.…
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Publication information: Article title: NLC Assesses Progress of 2002 Advocacy Agenda. (Analysis). Contributors: Whitman, Cameron - Author. Magazine title: Nation's Cities Weekly. Volume: 25. Issue: 48 Publication date: December 2, 2002. Page number: 5+. © 2009 National League of Cities. COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group.
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