2010 Fall Leadership Meeting: Mayors Focus on Transportation Reauthorization, CDBG, Energy Block Grants, Small Business, Unfunded Mandates
Mayors Focus on Transportation Reauthorization, CDBG, Energy Block Grants, Small Business, Unfunded Mandates
By USCM Staff
October 4, 2010
Amidst much uncertainty due to the coming Congressional elections, almost fifty mayors traveled to Washington (DC) September 22-24 for the 2010 Fall Leadership Meeting of The U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Led by Conference President Burnsville Mayor Elizabeth B. Kautz, the mayors engaged with top Administration and Congressional leaders on discussions related to job creation, infrastructure, and promoting small business investment.
As much of the discussion in Washington moves toward the need for deficit reduction, the mayors stressed the importance of maintaining key investment partnership programs such as the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG). As the mayors said, these programs leverage dollars and create jobs in the private sector. At the same time, the mayors expressed serious concern regarding the growing list of unfunded federal mandates and regulatory inflexibilities coming their way – especially from the Environmental Protection Agency.
LaHood: Rebuild Transportation Infrastructure
U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood met with the mayors to highlight the Recovery Act transportation successes, including an $8 billion down payment for High-Speed rail, TIGER grants, and, for the first time, transportation grants directly to cities.
LaHood also discussed President Obama's new vision to rebuild and expand America's transportation infrastructure, stating that President Obama is “committed to rebuilding 150,000 miles of roads – enough to circle the earth six times. He is committed to laying and maintaining 4,000 miles of track – some for transit, some for freight, some for High-Speed rail – enough to stretch from coast to coast. And he is committed to restoring 150 miles of runways and putting in place a next generation air-traffic control system that will reduce travel time and delays.”
Kautz and Conference Transportation and Communications Committee Chair Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed urged LaHood to submit proposed legislation to the Congress as opposed to principles. “We need an authorization bill that does not simply send the majority of funding through the states,” Reed said. “We need a bill from the Administration that reverses decades of underinvestment in cities.”
“Two-thirds of the country lives in metropolitan areas, home to the highest numbers of unemployed and the nation's worst traffic jams and its oldest roads, bridges, and transit systems,” Reed said. “But as we know under the Recovery Act, cities and their metropolitan areas received far less than two-thirds of federal transportation stimulus funds.” Reed urged LaHood to include reforms in the Administration's proposed legislation that would guarantee that at least two-thirds of federal transportation investments are directed to cities and metropolitan areas.”
Begich, Fattah: Lame Duck Session Strategy
Senator Mark Begich (AK) and Representative Chaka Fattah (PA) met with the mayors to discuss the remaining days of the 111th Congress and how city priorities might fare.
Both leaders said that with Congress about to adjourn for the elections, the best hope for action on additional funding for the EECBG would be in the lame duck session that will start in mid-November. The Conference of Mayors has been working closely with Begich and Fattah – who Chairs the Congressional Urban Caucus – to make sure that the EECBG is funded beyond the resources provided in the stimulus bill.
In his remarks, Begich noted that, “There will be changes in the Senate, including six new Members on the Appropriations Committee.” Fattah told the mayors that the “EECBG program is a money saver, and it is a way to the future,” promising that, “We are going to achieve that [program funding].”
Begich and Fattah also highlighted the benefits for cities in the small business bill that recently passed – legislation strongly supported by the Conference of Mayors. (For more details, see related story in U.S. Mayor.)
Help Coming for Small Businesses
Small Business Administration Assistant Administrator Alfonso H. Lopez, who directs SBA's Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs, told the mayors that the passage of the Small Business Act by Congress on September 23 would have an immediate impact. He explained that after the recovery act funds for small business loans were exhausted, $600 million in standby loans could now be made which would benefit the economy right away. The legislation also made several other changes: doubling the size of small business loans from $2 million to $5 million and increasing the size of micro loans from $35, 000 to $65,000. Community Banks will also have more capital for small business lending, and a state Small Business Credit Subsidy authorized by the bill would provide $1.5 billion for states. Lopez said that if a state does not apply, then a large municipality in the state could apply.
Charlotte (NC) Mayor Anthony Foxx, Chair of the Conference of Mayors Small Business Task Force, said that 90 percent of the jobs in his city are tied to small businesses. He recommended that the Conference of Mayors create a toolbox that would include small business best practices from cities across the nation. Foxx is also championing a new proposal to create a tax credit to encourage private capital investment into small businesses.
CDBG Must Be Fully Funded
U.S. Housing and Urban Development Assistant Secretary Rafael Bostic discussed four areas in housing he said were important to mayors: foreclosures, housing rental policy, the recovery act, and neighborhood investments. With regard to foreclosures, he cited the passage of three rounds of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP). He said that HUD had recently announced the First Look program that could be used with NSP to allow communities to buy foreclosure properties before they go to auction. Commenting on rental policy, Bostic said that government policy has been heavily skewed toward homeownership. But, he added, that people need to have real choices and that the federal government would provide more support for rental housing.
Bostic said that HUD had worked hard to get the recovery or stimulus money out and that the department was three to four months ahead of its goal of getting money obligated and spent. As for neighborhood investments, Bostic said that place matters a lot. New place-based programs at HUD include the Choice Neighborhoods program and the grants being provided through the new office of Sustainable Communities.
The need for HUD's strong support of the CDBG program was strongly expressed by the mayors during the discussion with the Assistant Secretary.
Energy: Partnership with Mayors on EECBG Working
Department of Energy official Tobias Russell briefed mayors on the status of the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) Program, stating that this program “directly connects and directly infuses funds in the local economies that drive our nation's economic growth.”
Russell, who oversees EECBG funding as the Acting Program Manager of DOEs Weatherization and Intergovernmental Program, reminded mayors that the “scale of the program is immense” explaining that grants are allocated to 2,300 grantees.
“Together, we are changing the way we use and produce energy,” he told mayors before adding that, “Climate emissions threaten our planet.”
Citing a recent report by DOE's Inspector General, Russell urged mayors to seek timely reimbursement for costs incurred under the program, noting that the report examined outlay rates as the key metric for the program's success, a finding that the Department disputes.
After responding to mayoral statements underscoring the importance of the program and the need for continued EECBG funding, Russell said, “We are excited about our partnership.”
Build America Bonds Need Renewal
U.S. Treasurer Rosie Rios told mayors that Build America Bonds (BAB) was one of the most successful programs created under the Recovery Act. When she spoke at the Conference of Mayors Winter Meeting last January, Rios said that state and local governments had issued $50 billion in BABs. As of August 31, that number had increased to $128 billion. During the first year of the program, Rios said state and local governments saved an estimated $12 billion nationwide.
The program has proven to be a huge incentive for local investment in infrastructure projects such as the construction and renovation of schools, hospitals, libraries, water, and sewage and transportation systems.
Under the BAB program, the Treasury Department provides local issuers a 35 percent direct subsidy to offset their borrowing costs. Over 1,500 separate BABs have been issued in 45 states, two territories and the District of Columbia.
The BABs program is set to expire at the end of the year, and President Obama has submitted a proposal to reduce the subsidy to 28 percent and make the program permanent. The House and Senate are pushing separate proposals to temporarily extend the program for two years and one year respectively. Mayors were urged to let their congressional delegations know how the program is benefiting their local areas.
Defending Local Rights-of-Way, Compensation
Conference of Mayors Transportation and Communications Committee Vice Chair for Communications Policy Tallahassee Mayor John Marks provided the mayors with an update of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) National Broadband Plan's rights-of-way concerns and likely action in the 112th Congress on a major rewrite of the federal communications law. Marks' discussion with the mayors was part of the Conference of Mayors on-going advocacy of the FCC, the Obama Administration, and the Congress to preserve local authority to manage public rights-of-way and to receive fair market value compensation for use of the public rights-of-way.
“The communications industry has long sought federal preemption of local government control of public rights-of-way and the preemption of our ability to collect fair and reasonable compensation for use and management of our local rights-of-way,” Marks said.
He noted that, “The impetus for the rewrite is a combination of the need to update the law to reflect technological changes and also to create a viable regulatory regime for the Internet.” Marks said, “The primary issues in the debate over a rewrite of the Communications Act will be “network neutrality” and other intra-industry disputes.” However, he said, “make no doubt, the industry will make a serious effort to preempt local right-of-way authority and fair market value compensation.”
EPA Dioxin Mandate Could Halt Development
Elizabeth (NJ) Mayor J. Christian Bollwage, Co-Chair of the Brownfields Revitalization Task Force, briefed mayors on meetings he held with the EPA and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) concerning the EPA's proposed Interim Guidance on dioxin levels in soils at brownfields clean-up sites. The EPA has proposed dramatically low dioxin levels that would trigger costly clean-ups, and are likely to have a chilling effect on brownfields redevelopment projects across the country.
Bollwage reported that EPA officials didn't appear to be concerned that the proposed guidance would have any impact at the local level, even though he pointed out that the Agency did not include any consideration of economic impacts or any unintended consequences of the low dioxin levels that are very close to the background levels that are present in most urban soils.
While the OMB officials listened intently to the mayor's concerns, they began the meeting with the ground rules that they are not free to discuss their thinking on the matter, but were eager to hear about the Conference of Mayors positions on the subject. In both meetings Bollwage emphasized that EPA should defer establishing new guidance until the Agency completes its overall dioxin reassessment effort, and then consider how the science can be best integrated into the various regulatory programs including brownfields remediation.
EPA Combined Sewer Overflow Mandates
Pleasanton Mayor Jennifer Hosterman, Co-Chair of the Mayors Water Council, presented a white paper produced by USCM staff in conjunction with staff from a number of participating cities outlining four recommendations to EPA to modify consent decree negotiations involving sewer overflow controls. The enforcement experience over the last several years has prompted many cities to express concern over the high cost of EPA required controls, and the sometimes heavy-handed command and control authority the Agency exerts to force cities to accept the EPA designated control designs.
Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic, a USCM Past President, said that his city has been the target of ever-increasing mandates to implement overflow controls, and has been fined for delays when in fact the EPA has caused the delays in implementing the controls.
Mayors then broadened the discussion beyond water to other regulations including air, solid waste and brownfields remediation EPA is adopting and proposing that would dramatically increase the number and cost of federal unfunded mandates that cities will have to pay for.
Landrieu Talks Culture Economy
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, the new Chair of the Tourism, Arts, Parks, Entertainment and Sports Committee, outlined his vision for the Committee's future work by stressing that “Culture Means Business.” Often viewed as an afterthought, cultural activities that include music, food, film, architecture, and art businesses, are job-producing revenue raising generators. “Mayors can be the directors of local cultural economies,” stated Landrieu.
As part of the Mayor's agenda for the Committee, he plans to host a World Cultural Economic Forum in New Orleans in Fall 2011. The World Cultural Economic Forum was created by Landrieu in 2007 when he was Louisiana Lieutenant Governor. The Forum will host a number of international participants who will explore best practices and engage in critical conversations on ways to improve cultural economies.
Elizabeth B. Kautz, Burnsville, MN - President
Antonio R. Villaraigosa, Los Angeles, CA - Vice President
Michael A. Nutter, Philadelphia, PA - Second Vice President
Samuel Adams, Portland, OR
Ralph Becker, Salt Lake City, UT
J. Christian Bollwage, Elizabeth, NJ
Robert Bowser, East Orange, NJ
Jim Brainard, Carmel, IN
Christopher Cabaldon, West Sacramento, CA
Robert Cluck, Arlington, TX
Michael B. Coleman, Columbus, OH
Joy Cooper, Hallandale Beach, FL
Mick Cornett, Oklahoma City, OK
Frank Cownie, Des Moines, IA
Buddy Dyer, Orlando, FL
William Euille, Alexandria, VA
William Finch, Bridgeport, CT
Robert Foster, Long Beach, CA
Anthony Foxx, Charlotte, NC
Mike Gin, Redondo Beach, CA
Oscar Goodman, Las Vegas, NV
John Hammons, Muskogee, OK
Patrick Henry Hays, North Little Rock, AR
Jennifer Hosterman, Pleasanton, CA
Harvey Johnson, Jr., Jackson, MS
Mitch Landrieu, New Orleans, LA
Tom Leppert, Dallas, TX
Ron Littlefield, Chattanooga, TN
Mark Mallory, Cincinnati, OH
John Marks, Tallahassee, FL
Joseph McElveen, Sumter, SC
Ken Miyagishima, Las Cruses, NM
Lori Moseley, Miramar, FL
Frank Ortis, Pembroke Pines, FL
Annise Parker, Houston, TX
Ed Pawlowski, Allentown, PA
Don Plusquellic, Akron, OH
David Pope, Oak Park, IL
Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Baltimore, MD
Kasim Reed, Atlanta, GA
Robert Reichert, Macon, GA
Jim Schmitt, Green Bay, WI
Scott Smith, Mesa, AZ
Brian Stratton, Schenectady, NY
Jennifer Stultz, Gastonia, NC
Ashley Swearengin, Fresno, CA
Brian Wahler, Piscataway, NJ
Elaine Walker, Bowling Green, KY
William Wild, Westland, MI