New Federal Transportation Bill, FAST Act, Becomes Law

President Obama signed the FAST (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation) Act yesterday, making the first long term transportation bill in a decade official. There are some big wins for local governments within the new law, which is worth approximately $305 billion. A good, comprehensive 13 page summary of the law can be found here.

The biggest win for local communities, quite simply, is that it is a 5 year arrangement and local leaders will not have to wonder what will happen every six months under more extensions. The League had been advocating first and foremost for a bill that expands beyond the next fiscal year to enable more long-term planning for transportation projects. Specifically, there are many other significant victories being highlighted in the bill, which spans 1300 pages.

The Surface Transportation Program is now the Surface Transportation Block Grant Program and increases the amount allocated to local leaders from 50% to 55% over the length of the bill and gives locals greater flexibility in how the funds are spent.

The Surface Transportation Block Grant Program would now house the Transportation Alternatives Program, and is proposed to be increased from $835 million to $850 million. And the bill gives Metropolitan Planning Organizations additional flexibility in how to spend their funds.

Transit Oriented Development would be eligible for the TIFIA program and the minimum project size threshold would be lowered to $10 million, expanding the program significantly for smaller projects.

The Michigan delegation was mostly supportive with both Senators voting yes and twelve of the fourteen Representatives voting for the bill as well. Congressmen Amash and Huizenga were the two no votes.

Summer Minnick is the Director of External Relations and Federal Affairs. She can be reached at sminnick@mml.org or 517-908-0301.

Congress Poised to Pass Long-Term Transportation Package This Week

For the first time in ten years, Congress is on the verge of passing a long-term transportation package and there are some big wins for local governments within the new deal. The committee of House and Senate negotiators have agreed to the new bill worth approximately $305 billion, entitled the FAST Act (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation), and both Chambers are expected to pass it by the deadline of this Friday, December 4th. The biggest win for local communities, quite simply, is that it is a 5 year arrangement and local leaders will not have to wonder what will happen every six months under more extensions. The League had been advocating first and foremost for a bill that expands beyond the next fiscal year to enable more long-term planning for transportation projects. Specifically, there are many other significant victories being highlighted in the bill, which spans 1300 pages.

The Surface Transportation Program is now the Surface Transportation Block Grant Program and increases the amount allocated to local leaders from 50% to 55% over the length of the bill and gives locals greater flexibility in how the funds are spent.

The Surface Transportation Block Grant Program would now house the Transportation Alternatives Program, and is proposed to be increased from $835 million to $850 million. And the bill gives Metropolitan Planning Organizations additional flexibility in how to spend their funds.

Transit Oriented Development would be eligible for the TIFIA program and the minimum project size threshold would be lowered to $10 million, expanding the program significantly for smaller projects.

The bill is being paid for by a series of sources, not including any changes to the federal gas tax. Some of the sources include the Federal Reserve surplus account, selling a portion of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and cutting the dividend the Federal Reserve pays to some member banks.

We will notify you as soon as the bill has cleared both the House and Senate later this week. We’ll know more details of the bill in the coming days, but the changes identified so far show significant improvement for local governments and their support for transportation infrastructure by the federal government. We’re pleased after all these years to be on the verge of such a victory!

Summer Minnick is the Director of External Relations and Federal Affairs. She can be reached at 517-908-0301 or sminnick@mml.org.

Budget and Speaker Action in U.S. House of Representatives

The United States House of Representatives just took some significant action on critical issues which had been looming. They passed legislation which suspends the debt ceiling until March of 2017 and lifts budget caps set by sequestration by $80 billion through September 2017. That increase will be split evenly between discretionary spending and non-discretionary spending. This could result in positive outcomes for local government programs in the coming year and a half. Senate members have sounded mostly positive about the deal. Essentially at the same time, they elected Paul Ryan (R-WI) to serve as the next House Speaker, ending weeks of turmoil within the GOP caucus. 

Summer Minnick is the Director of External Relations and Federal Affairs. She can be reached at 517-908-0301 or sminnick@mml.org.

Possible Federal Debt Limit and Budget Deal This Week

A deal to increase the federal debt limit and set some federal budget figures has been struck by Congress and the President, according to many sources out of Washington DC. The deal would raise the debt ceiling through March 2017 and would lift sequestration caps in the budget for fiscal years 2016 and 2017. Currently it appears that long term federal transportation solutions are not included in the agreement. While the plan has not been made public yet, it is expected to be within the next day or two. Congress has only a few days left to act before the current federal debt limit is reached, so time is winding down for an agreement. Additionally, it is believed that there is a desire by many in the Republican caucus to strike an agreement before a new Speaker takes the helm.

Join #CitiesLead2016 to Encourage Presidential Candidates to Address City Issues

`The National League of Cities has launched Cities Lead 2016, which is a new platform for local officials to engage with Presidential candidates on important city issues. By signing up here, you can receive updated information on the campaign and send a message that you want to hear candidates address key issues that impact cities and villages such as transportation, economic development issues and public safety. On the NLC’s website for the campaign, you can download a brochure on the issues, learn about all the candidates and find additional resources. Please help us get local issues into the Presidential spotlight!

Summer Minnick is the Director of External Relations and Federal Affairs. She can be reached at 517-908-0301 or sminnick@mml.org.

Transportation Sees Action in Congress

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee voted this week to support a six year federal transportation bill, the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform – STTR – Act of 2015 (H.R. 3763), which has provisions that are seen as being very favorable to local governments – similar to that of the DRIVE Act passed by the Senate prior this summer. This includes incremental growth in local government funding under the Surface Transportation Program and preserving local authority to allocate funding for multi modal transportation networks under the proposed STP Set Aside. One major difference however, is that the House proposal does not provide for a funding stream for the nearly insolvent Highway Trust Fund, whereas the Senate plan did have three years of funding proposed. But this step is seen as important and positive for getting a long term transportation plan on the books soon. While there may be another short term extension before the House and Senate can resolve their proposals and agree on how to fund them – the hope is that this deal can be in place by the holidays.

Summer Minnick is the Director of External Relations and Federal Affairs. She can be reached at 517-908-0301 or sminnick@mml.org.

League Members, Board President Bolen Hear from President Obama at NLC Conference

League members hear President Barack Obama in Washington D.C. Monday morning.

League members hear President Barack Obama in Washington D.C. Monday morning. Photo credit: C-SPAN.

Michigan Municipal League President Dick Bolen led a Michigan contingent to Washington D.C. this week to attend the 50th Annual National League of Cities (NLC) Congressional City Conference.  The group had the opportunity to hear President Barack Obama talk Monday morning.

The President’s speech was live streamed by the White House and C-SPAN. You can watch it here.

Bolen, Mayor Pro Tem of Wakefield, and several other Michigan Municipal League members are among more than 2,000 community leaders from throughout the nation to attend the conference this week. The officials will meet with their congressional leaders, attend education sessions and network with officials from other state Leagues and cities.

The focus of this year’s NLC conference is federal priorities and issues facing cities and towns across the country.

Also during the conference, Dan Gilmartin, League CEO and executive director, was named to the NLC’s 2016 Presidential Election Task Force. Gilmartin was one of 17 officials from throughout the nation to serve on the task force, said NLC Board Member Patricia Lockwood, Fenton Mayor Pro Tem. View a press release about this appointment here.

Go here for other conference highlights.

Matt Bach is director of media relations for the Michigan Municipal League. He can be reached at mbach@mml.org.

Congress Passes $1.1 Trillion Budget Extension – Doesn’t Include Marketplace Fairness

Congress passed a $1.1 Trillion budget bill, which is a combination of an omnibus budget and continuing resolution, funding most of the federal government through Sept 30, 2015. However, the Department of Homeland Security only received funding through February 27th, 2015. Overall, the bill increases federal spending for the year by $1.1 Billion; 1.8% for non-defense spending, which is still negative growth when adjusted for inflation. The budget held a mixed bag of results for local leaders. First, the biggest disappointment was that Marketplace Fairness did not get included in the mix. Marketplace Fairness would have leveled the playing field for brick and mortar businesses with online retailers, which don’t have to remit sales taxes.

Specifically, in the budget, TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grants were reduced by 16%, but transit programs saw an increase in $141 million. Federal highway programs maintained their level of funding. CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) funding was reduced by $30 million and a provision was included which bans locals from selling CDBG grants to other communities. There was also a reduction in HOME (Home Investment Partnerships Program) funds of $100 million, bringing that down to $900 million.

Summer Minnick is the Director of Policy initiatives and Federal Affairs. She can be reached at 517-908-0301 or sminnick@mml.org.

 

Action Needed on Marketplace fairness Push in Congress

With time winding down in the Congressional session, now is the time to push for action on marketplace fairness. This issue has legs and we’re hoping to get it over the finish line in the final days. Marketplace fairness would close the online sales tax loophole and level the playing field for our local brick and mortar retailers. It would also mean an additional $23 billion nationally to invest in our communities – in infrastructure, police and fire, and more. The holiday season has been highlighting the issue as online shoppers spent more this year on “Black Friday,” the traditional start to holiday shopping, than ever before. However, most shoppers will not pay the sales tax owed on those purchases because of the loophole exempting online sellers from collecting sales tax.

Please contact your member of Congress and tell them to support Marketplace Fairness (this phrase is enough as the actual bill numbers have changed and the language could be substituted in a different bill). To contact your member of Congress click here.

For resources on talking points, and letters to the editor, visit the National League of Cities resource page.

Summer Minnick is the Director of Policy Initiatives and Federal Affairs. She can be reached at 517-908-0301 or sminnick@mml.org.

EPA Proposed Regulation on Dental Amalgam Separation Could Cause Burden on Local Treatment Systems

The Environmental Protection Agency is having an open comment period until December 22nd, to allow individuals and organizations to respond to proposed new regulation of discharge of dental amalgam into publicly owned treatment works (POTWs) as part of the Clean Water Act. The regulation would classify dentists as an “industrial user” under part 23, which would require additional pretreatment measures that could be burdensome to locals due to the increased oversight requirements in this category. Michigan already has an amalgam separation law on the books, but this new provision would place dentists into a category (industrial user) that the DEQ does not have authorization over in order to modify the federal requirement to better align with the existing state law. If you would like to read about this issue further and/or submit comments, click here.

Summer Minnick is the Director of Policy Initiatives and Federal Affairs. She can be reached at 517-908-0301 or sminnick@mml.org.