League’s Dan Gilmartin Talks Flint Water Crisis, Infrastructure Issues at Congressional Briefing

Michigan Municipal League CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin participates in a Congressional Briefing on the Flint Water Crisis and infrastructure issues in Washington D.C. Wednesday.

Michigan Municipal League CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin participates in a Congressional Briefing on the Flint Water Crisis and infrastructure issues in Washington D.C. Wednesday.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Michigan Municipal League CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin and fellow municipal leaders from across the nation called for a partnership between cities, states and the federal government to improve the country’s ailing infrastructure.

Gilmartin participated in a panel discussion at the Congressional Capitol Briefing earlier today (March 9, 2016) in Washington D.C. Gilmartin and the panel discussed national infrastructure issues and the Flint water crisis. Other scheduled panelists were Mayor Mark Stodola, of Little Rock, Arkansas; Councilmember Greg Evans, of Eugene Oregon; and Councilmember Andy Huckaba, of Lenexa, Kansas.

The panel also discussed whether federal policies are keeping pace with local efforts to reevaluate and reconfigure infrastructure for the next generation. More than 200 members of Congress and congressional staff attended the event at the Capitol Visitors Center Auditorium. The briefing is part of the National League of Cities annual Congressional City Conference concluding today.

In response to the Flint water crisis, the NLC on Tuesday announced a resolution that declared that the nation’s cities stand united in support of Flint. The resolution also included a call to Congress and the Administration to resolve the Flint Water Crisis. View the resolution here.

Here is an excerpt of the press statement about the resolution:

NLC is also calling on Congress and the administration to support robust funding for all water infrastructure mechanisms, including the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund programs and the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act.

“The true tragedy is that the families-and children-impacted by the lead contamination in Flint will endure long-term education and mental health impacts,” said National League of Cities President Melodee Colbert-Kean, councilmember, Joplin, Mo.”The federal government must make a long-term commitment to help these families with the challenges that lie ahead.”

“The Flint drinking water crisis is unconscionable and unacceptable. Cites stand in solidarity with Flint, and the National League of Cities stands united with all American cities in the need to update our nation’s deteriorating water infrastructure,” saidNational League of Cities CEO and Executive Director Clarence E. Anthony. “We must invest in the infrastructure our communities depend on. We need the federal government to step up, and work with cities to make sure there will never again be another disaster like in Flint.”

“The tragic events in Flint are a wake-up call for the nation. Policies that ignore critical infrastructure needs result in a shameful disinvestment in our cities, leading to problems like we are experiencing in Flint,” said Dan Gilmartin, executive director and CEO of the Michigan Municipal League. “The Michigan state government has shorted communities $7 billion in revenue since 2000. The Flint crisis is the latest result of this ruinous policy.”

Access to clean drinking water is fundamental for the health and well-being of America’s communities and families. Lead-contaminated drinking water can have permanent and long-term effects on mental health, IQ and development, particularly in infants and children.

There is an urgent need to invest in our aging water infrastructure nationwide. The EPA estimates the U.S. water infrastructure capital needs to be approximately $720 billion over the next 20 years.

View the full press release about the resolution here.

NLC is the nation’s largest and most representative membership and advocacy organization for city officials, comprised of more than 19,000 cities, towns, and villages representing more than 218 million Americans.

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

Michigan Leaders Outline Three Local Government Priorities for U.S. Congress

U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, speaks to Michigan Municipal League members in Washington D.C. during the NLC Congressional City Conference Tuesday, March 8, 2016.

U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, speaks to Michigan Municipal League members in Washington D.C. during the NLC Congressional City Conference Tuesday, March 8, 2016.

A contingent of Michigan local government leaders were in Washington D.C. today to meet with U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters on legislative priorities for local communities. The three priorities requested were in the areas of municipal bond tax exemptions; marketplace fairness and online sales tax parity; and transportation funding among other issues.

The Michigan contingent in Washington D.C. this week for the National League of Cities Congressional Cities Conference 2016 was led by League President and Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly; and League Vice President and Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss. Also attending were about 30 Michigan local government leaders, including Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, Fenton Mayor Pro Tem and NLC Board Member Pat Lockwood; League CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin and Summer Minnick, the League’s director of external relations and federal affairs.

The group has been meeting with various Congressional offices in the Capitol during their visit.

U.S. Senator Gary Peters meets with members of the Michigan Municipal League in Washington D.C. Tuesday, March 8, 2016.

U.S. Senator Gary Peters meets with members of the Michigan Municipal League in Washington D.C. Tuesday, March 8, 2016.

Here are details on the three priorities presented:

  1. Continuing to have municipal bonds be tax exempt. The tax exempt status of municipal bonds is critical to investment in infrastructure and provides tremendous economic growth in our communities. Eliminating that exemption would harm the future development of critical infrastructure projects and the jobs that come with them. The group encourages the Michigan Congressional Delegation to reject any attempt to eliminate or limit the traditional tax exemption for municipal bonds.
  2. Support marketplace fairness and online sales tax parity. Last Congressional session, the Senate passed the Marketplace Fairness Act with a vote of 69-27 in a bipartisan manner. This would have allowed state and local governments to collect an estimated $23 billion in online sales taxes, thus ending the online sales tax ‘break.’ However, to great disappointment, the House failed to act before session ended and we are starting over with new legislation this session. Gary Peters and Rosalynn Bliss edited-smallWhile exact estimates vary, Michigan stands to collect hundreds of millions of dollars from purchases that are avoiding the tax today. This session the bill, S. 698, is sponsored by Senator Enzi (R-WY) and has 22 co-sponsors. Within the past few weeks, Congress passed a bill to, among other things, prevent state and local governments from taxing internet access. As part of getting support needed for that bill, we understand that Senate leaders agreed to have a floor debate on the Marketplace Fairness bill later this year. By failing to pass legislation to bring tax equity in the retail industry, we are punishing those who have invested in our communities. Main Street retailers currently operate at a 5-10 percent disadvantage because they are required to collect sales taxes while remote sellers are not. And, we are leaving billions of dollars on the table which could be used to help invest in other areas for economic growth and/or reduce the deficit. Marketplace Fairness simply allows states and local governments to enforce existing sales tax laws. It does not create new taxes or increase existing ones. The Michigan contingent encourages passage of S. 698 for the benefit of our state and local economies.
    League President and Dearborn Mayor Jack O'Reilly and the League's Summer Minnick meet with U.S. Sen. Gary Peters.

    League President and Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly and the League’s Summer Minnick meet with U.S. Sen. Gary Peters.

  3. Increase funding for transit and multi-modal transportation. Last year, Congress passed and President Obama signed the FAST (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation) Act, making the first long-term transportation bill in a decade official. There are some wins for local governments within the new law, which is worth approximately $305 billion. However, while there are many positives with the FAST Act, there are still investment needs in our transportation infrastructure. Our nation must continue to make greater investments in transit and multi-modal transportation in order to be competitive worldwide. The Michigan contingent hopes that in having a conversation about increased investment in transportation that we can focus more on all users of transportation networks and not primarily on vehicle users. While the FAST Act was extremely helpful to local communities by providing some stability in transportation funding, the Michigan leaders request Congress for a long-term mechanism for increased funding must still be debated. Additionally, increasing funds for transit and multi-modal transportation is critical to the future prosperity of our communities.

Posted by Matt Bach, the League’s director of media relations, on behalf of Summer Minnick League’s director of external relations and federal affairs. Summer can be reached at sminnick@mml.org.

League CEO Dan Gilmartin to Speak at Congressional Briefing on Flint Water Crisis

Dan Gilmartin is interviewed during the NLC Congressional City Conference in Washington D.C. this week.

Dan Gilmartin is interviewed during the NLC Congressional City Conference in Washington D.C. this week.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Michigan Municipal League CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin will participate in a Congressional Capitol Briefing Wednesday in Washington D.C. and talk about national infrastructure issues and the Flint water crisis.

Gilmartin will be part of a panel that will inform members of Congress about the most pressing infrastructure issues facing cities today. They also will delve into whether federal policies are keeping pace with local efforts to reevaluate and reconfigure infrastructure for the next generation. More than 200 members of Congress and congressional staff are expected to attend the event taking place 10 a.m. Wednesday, March 9, 2016, at the Capitol Visitors Center Auditorium. The briefing is part of the National League of Cities annual Congressional City Conference happening this week.

Through his work with communities, Gilmartin is recognized as a national leader in the fields of urban revitalization, placemaking, local government reform, and transportation policy.  Model D Media has referred to him as “an urban thinker with an eye for the small, oft-unnoticed changes that can make ‘places’ out of streets and buildings.”  Dan serves as a member of the Michigan Future, Inc. Leadership Council and on the Placemaking Leadership Council.

Joining Gilmartin on the panel will be other local experts who will discuss the water crisis in Flint and what it means for federal-state-local relations nation-wide; contrasting state and local perspectives on accountability in the transit funding process; competing public and private interests in the broadband market; and differing federal and local points of view on infrastructure finance.

Other speakers include Mayor Mark Stodola, of Little Rock, Arkansas; Councilmember Greg Evans, of Eugene Oregon; and Councilmember Andy Huckaba, of Lenexa, Kansas.

NLC is the nation’s largest and most representative membership and advocacy organization for city officials, comprised of more than 19,000 cities, towns, and villages representing more than 218 million Americans.

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

Congress to President: Thanks, But No Thanks

Last week, President Obama released his last budget proposal. However, it got the cold shoulder from Congress with Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) even going so far as saying that the budget is “a progressive manual for growing the federal government at the expense of hardworking Americans.” In fact, Congress has announced it has no plans to even consider it and the Budget Committees won’t entertain hearings from the White House on it, which is a break in tradition.

Congress has an abbreviated schedule this year, with the election looming. So, it will be interesting to see if they can prepare and negotiate their own budget, or if we can expect a less-controversial “Continuing Resolution” from the current year budget come this summer/fall.

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

 

Breakdown of President Obama’s Final Budget

Last week, President Obama released his final budget proposal and there are significant notable items for local governments. Below is a brief summary of some key items. For the entire budget you can visit the White House’s online resource, which is a pretty neat tool for exploring the proposal.

The President’s budget totals a record $4.1 trillion. Approximately $1.2 trillion is discretionary, with that being split in half between military spending and domestic programs. One of the biggest items that stands out is the $320 billion influx of revenue over 10 years from a $10 per barrel oil tax, which would equate to about $.25 per gallon. But this funding wouldn’t just go to building roads. In fact, the President’s proposal puts a much greater emphasis on transit and multi-modal transportation, increasing the spending ratio of highway to transit spending from 4 to 1 to 2 to 1 with $17 billion for FY 2017 under the “21st century Clean Transportation Plan.” Specifically, it would provide $20 billion above current levels to reduce traffic and provide new ways for families to get to work and school, $3.7 billion in grants for high speed rail, and $5.9 billion for safer, more efficient transit systems. It also allocated another $725 million in TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grants and would make it a mandatory, ongoing program rather than the existing annually-authorized program.

In the Housing, Community and Economic Development budget, the proposal would expand and make permanent the New Markets Tax Credits, which promote investments in low income communities. HUD’s Fair Housing Initiatives Program would see a $6 million increase. There would be $15 million in additional funding for housing choice vouchers and $215 million for Economic Development Assistance Programs, which fund a variety of local and regional programs. However, Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) would see a slight decrease in funding – $2.8 from $3 billion.

The Department of Justice budget would be essentially flat, but there programs that would better benefit cities tucked within it. For example, a new $500 million for the 21st Century Justice Initiative program to help local governments reduce crime and build community trust with law enforcement. An additional $74 million is proposed for the COPS program (Community Oriented Policing Services) and a variety of other smaller local-government focused programs.

In the Environmental Protection Agency budget, there may be a nod to the Flint water crisis in the President’s budget via increased funding in the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund of $157 million. However, this is offset by a decrease in the Clean Water SRF of $414 million. There are also modest increases in both the Brownfields Program and the Superfund program, both programs used for the restoration and redevelopment of abandoned or under-utilized industrial and commercial sites, which are frequently contaminated. On the energy front, the President proposed $2.9 billion to support a range of strategies aimed at reducing US reliance on oil, increasing energy affordability and increasing environmental responsibility.

The President’s budget is the first step in the process, and now it is up to Congress to determine if they will debate any of it or move forward with their own, or simply punt to a Continuing Resolution.

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

Congress Passes Ban on Internet Access Taxes, Will Action on Internet Sales Tax Parity Be Next?

Last week, the  Senate passed the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015, H.R. 644, which included a provision that will make permanent the temporary ban on state and local government’s authority to tax internet access (the Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act or PITFA). The House has already supported the measure, so the bill is now headed to the President for his signature, which the White House has indicated he will provide.

There are a handful of states in which local governments levy such a tax, and the bill also eliminated their ability to continue to do so. While Michigan is not one of them, it is relevant because this issue was frequently tied together in a leverage-sort-of-way to help encourage Congress to act on online sales parity – known now as the Marketplace Fairness Act (S. 698).

And indeed, the bill was supported by many Congressional members in exchange for a commitment from Senate majority leadership to provide floor debate time on Marketplace Fairness later this year. The League will be discussing this issue as a priority in our Congressional visits in Washington DC in a few weeks.

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

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.