Commerce-Justice Appropriations Bill Has Red Flags for Cities; Census Provisions, Future of Law Enforcement Grant Are Key Concerns

Article excerpt

Just one day before summer recess, the House approved the FY 1999 Commerce-State-Justice Appropriations Bill (HR 4276) in a vote of 225-203. In a scramble that went well into the night, the House voted to pass the $34 billion appropriations bill. The passage of this bill calls into question the fate of both NLC-supported year 2000 census And public safety block grants.

The Showdown

Within the Commerce-Justice-State appropriations bill, the House defeated an amendment that would have fully funded the Census Bureau's activities in preparation for the 2000 census. As passed, the bill promises almost $952 million for the census over the coming year, but half of the funds would be withheld and subject to a second vote by Congress in March. For cities, the stakes are high given that the census is used to apportion House seats and to allocate federal benefits among states and local governments.

The census controversy centers on the Clinton administration's plan to combine a traditional count with a statistical sampling of missing households. Sponsors of the amendment argued that the traditional method of conducting the census undercounts cities as well as rural areas, while those in opposition say sampling allows for the manipulation of population numbers.

The Senate has already passed a spending bill for these agencies' budgets for all of the next fiscal year. The Senate passed version of the bill (S 2260) sidestepped the issue. The House and Senate versions of the spending bill will have to be reconciled in a conference. The census vote will certainly rage into the fall or beyond given that the President has threatened to veto the spending bill if it contains the current census provisions. A veto could lead to a partial government shut-down in October.

Local Law Enforcement Block Grant

The House included in their consideration of the FY 1999 Commerce-State-Justice Appropriations bill the funding for the Local Law Enforcement Block Grant (LLEBG) program. The House did not include the reauthorization of the program, as the Senate did in last week's vote on the Commerce-State-Justice Appropriations. The House reauthorize the bill for one year at $523 million.

The reauthorization of LLEBG will be hammered out when the House and Senate conference on the legislation. The Senate reauthorize the bill for five years at $500 million. Conference on this bill in early September and there are severe impacts on municipalities associated with reductions in funding and a formula change that effects how grants are allocated. …