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February 16, 2011

Re: Federal Update for the period ending February 11, 2011
I.         Administration Announces National High Speed Rail Plan
II.        Washington Forges New Path on Broadband, Public Safety Communications
III.       PACE Program Gains Traction on Capitol Hill
IV.      Cities and First Lady Celebrate One Year Anniversary of Let's Move!
V.       NLC Provides City Leaders with Guide to Civil Public Engagement

Dear Mayor:

Here is the latest report from the federal relations staff at the National League of Cities (NLC). In a separate letter, we will advise you of some of the provisions included in the President’s FY 2012 Budget proposal.

I.   Administration Announces National High Speed Rail Plan
On February 8, Vice President Biden and Transportation Secretary LaHood announced a $53 billion high speed rail program to be included in a new surface transportation authorization bill. The proposal adds detail to President Obama's State of the Union pledge to provide 80 percent of Americans with access to high speed rail within 25 years.

The current federal surface transportation program, which has been extended several times since its expiration in September 2009, contains funding for highways, bridges, and transit programs. This initiative will add intercity passenger rail to any new legislation that is passed. In recent weeks, both Secretary LaHood and congressional transportation leaders have expressed optimism that Congress can reach agreement on a brand new transportation bill later this year. So far, however, disagreement over raising federal fuel tax revenues to meet current transportation spending levels has delayed agreement on a new six-year bill; new House Transportation Committee Chair John Mica (R-FL) has said that he will work on crafting a smaller bill that is more in line with current revenues.

Further details on the Administration's transportation proposal are included in the President's FY 2012 budget, which will be included in our following letter. Meanwhile, House Republicans have announced their intention to slash $1 billion from the FY 2011 budget for high speed rail as part of their budget cutting efforts. 

II.   Washington Forges New Path on Broadband, Public Safety Communications
On February 10, the President outlined a detailed vision of his proposal to bring high-speed wireless broadband access to 98 percent of Americans by leveraging underutilized radio spectrum and creating a nationwide interoperable public safety communications network. The proposal would reallocate a portion of radio spectrum known as the D Block directly to public safety to form the basis of the nationwide public safety network, a major NLC public safety policy goal.

The estimated $15 billion cost for construction of the new nationwide public safety network and expansion of broadband in rural areas would be funded by repurposing rural wire line subsidies and auctioning 500 MHz of spectrum currently held by the federal government and broadcasters. The federal government has estimated these auctions could bring in upwards of $27.8 billion from the sale of spectrum over the next 10 years. The remaining $10 billion not used for building out the network would be allocated to reducing the federal deficit. The Administration believes auctioning this spectrum will enable businesses to increase "4G" wireless broadband access across the country.

Legislative action is required to make the President's vision a reality, and efforts are already underway in Congress. On January 25, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) introduced the Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovations Act (S. 28), while Congressmen Peter King (R-NY) and Bennie Thompson (D-MS) have introduced the Broadband for First Responders Act of 2011 (H.R. 607) in the House. NLC supports both bills and is urging members of Congress to support them, as well.  

III.   PACE Program Gains Traction on Capitol Hill
Early last week, NLC, the National Association of Counties (NACo), and the PACENOW coalition held a briefing for congressional offices on the importance of the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program to homeowners and local governments. In addition to the briefing, NLC and NACo sent a letter to all members of Congress to urge their support for the program under which local governments provide funds to participating homeowners to install energy-efficiency upgrades, which are paid back over time in the form of a special assessment. Payments are typically secured by a lien on the property that gives local governments priority of repayment if the home goes into foreclosure.

Last year, the PACE program was dealt a setback when the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), which oversees the nation's largest mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, issued a statement objecting to local governments holding the first lien on PACE homes, calling it a significant risk to the mortgage financier.

Bipartisan legislation is expected to be introduced soon in both the House and Senate that will ensure the underwriting standards of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will promote the use of PACE programs to finance the installation of renewable energy and energy efficiency improvements.

With introduction of legislation pending, the State of California, Sonoma and Placer Counties (CA), the Sierra Club, and the City of Palm Desert (CA), continue to pursue court action to overturn FHFA's directives. 

IV.   Cities and First Lady Celebrate One Year Anniversary of Let's Move!
In honor of the one year anniversary of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative, eleven cities from across the country hosted local celebrations this week highlighting healthy eating and active lifestyles. More than 500 municipalities, designated as Let's Move Cities and Towns, are currently participating in the initiative, which aims to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic in the United States within a generation.

Among the cities that hosted anniversary events in February were Bethlehem, Pa.; Chicago; Commerce City, Colo.; Kansas City, Mo.; Orlando, Fla.; Sacramento, Calif.; and Spokane, Wash. In addition to the local celebrations, Mrs. Obama held a conference call Wednesday with city leaders to highlight ways in which city leaders are engaging in the fight against childhood obesity. During the call, NLC Board member and San Antonio Mayor Juliàn Castro and Flint, Mich., Mayor Dayne Walling discussed some of their cities' most successful programs launched as a part of the Let's Move Cities and Towns initiative.

For more information about Let's Move Cities and Towns, visit www.letsmove.gov/officials.php.  To join the initiative, visit www.hhs.gov/intergovernmental/letsmove/index.html

V.   NLC Provides City Leaders with Guide to Civil Public Engagement
In the wake of last month's tragedy in Tucson, NLC has developed an action guide, "Beyond Civility: From Public Engagement to Problem Solving," to assist local officials in creating a framework for civility and democratic governance that encourages governing a community in a participatory, deliberative, inclusive and collaborative way. For a copy of the guide, go to: http://nlc.staging.10floor.com/ASSETS/B5FAD9F7F4B84A

For more information or if you have any questions, contact Jon Moran at 609-695-3481, ext. 121 or jmoran@njslom.com

Very truly yours,

 

William G. Dressel, Jr.
Executive Director

 

 

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