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August 15, 2011

Re:  Federal Update for the Period Ending August 12, 2011

I. Spending Debates to Resume Post-Recess
II. Short-Term FAA Extension Passes
III. Deadline Looms for Surface Transportation Reauthorization
IV. DOT Announces TIGER Grant Webinar Series
V. A Nationwide Public Safety Communications Network Still Possible
VI. Citing Gridlock, Administration Proceeds with Reforms of No Child Left Behind
VII. NLC Prepares to Reply to FCC

Dear Mayor:

Based on reports from our Federal associates at the National League of Cities (NLC), here is an update on action in our Nation’s Capital.

I. Spending Debates to Resume Post-Recess

The House, Senate, and the President finally reached an agreement that raises the nation's debt-ceiling and puts in place new mechanisms to control spending and reduce the federal deficit. The Budget Control Act of 2011, P.L. 112-25, became law on Tuesday, August 2.

The first mechanism, a fiscal year 2012 spending limit, will be tested next month when Congress returns to Washington. With fiscal year 2011 ending September 30, Congress must complete the fiscal year 2012 appropriations process within a new spending limit. The Budget Control Act set a spending limit that is $24 billion higher than the cap the House was using to prepare its spending bills, and the Senate is likely to push for funding programs at the higher level.

In addition, the law establishes a 12-member joint deficit reduction committee that will be tasked with finding an additional $1.5 trillion in spending cuts and to send their report to Congress for a December vote. If Congress fails to approve the cuts, automatic spending cuts totaling $1.2 trillion in discretionary and mandatory spending cuts will take effect.

Earlier this week, House and Senate leadership announced their appointments to the joint committee as follows:

Senate Majority Leader Reid

Senate Minority Leader McConnell

House Speaker John Boehner

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi

Sen. Patty Murray (WA)

Sen. John Kyl (AZ)

Rep. Jeb Hensarling (TX)

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (MD)

Sen. John Kerry (MA)

Sen. Pat Toomey (PA)

Rep. Dave Camp (MI)

Rep. James Clyburn (SC)

Sen. Max Baucus (MT)

Sen. Rob Portman (OH)

Rep. John Upton (MI)

Rep. Xavier Becerra (CA)

Their task promises to be grueling. 

II. Short-Term FAA Extension Passes

On August 5, the President signed a short-term extension of federal airport programs, concluding a Congressional stalemate that had partially shut down the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and its authority to impose a federal airline ticket tax to fund future airport improvements for two weeks. The extension is set to expire on September 16; this unusual (but necessary) recess action ended an impasse that had furloughed nearly 4,000 employees, halted local construction projects, and resulted in a daily revenue loss of $25 to $30 million to the federal airport improvement program.

When Congress returns from recess next month, it will once again be faced with the same issues that led to the impasse in the first place, including whether to phase out the Essential Air Services program, which provides subsidies to small airports that have lost regular commercial air service, and whether to repeal a National Mediation Board ruling allowing airline employees to unionize on a majority vote.

The law authorizing federal airport programs expired in 2007, and Congress has extended it 19 times while trying to reach agreement on a new program.  The outlook for a deal in September is not bright.

III. Deadline Looms for Surface Transportation Reauthorization

Congress will be staring at a September 30 deadline for renewal of the nation's surface transportation program laws, including authority to impose federal fuel taxes and other transportation-related user fees. But, given the vastly different approaches on the table in the House and the Senate, another extension might be the best possible outcome.

In the House, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chair Rep. John Mica earlier this year introduced a six-year proposal authorizing surface transportation programs that was met with criticism by House Democrats. The proposal calls for cutting federal transportation programs by 34% and consolidates many existing programs into one block grant for states to spend according to their priorities (see a state-by-state impact of these cuts).  Although the House Committee released the 22-page draft proposal on the legislation, it did not release actual bill language or a timeframe for House consideration of the proposal.

In the Senate, the Environment and Public Works Committee leaders joined in a bi-partisan effort to develop a bill, although few details were released. The reports are that the Senate proposal calls for full funding at current levels for two years and expands the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA), a loan program which provides federal credit for transportation projects of national or regional significance. An obstacle to the proposal moving forward is that it falls $12 billion short of the revenues needed to meet the proposed funding levels.

Given Washington's recent willingness to play games of brinkmanship over any spending decision and to let authority for programs expire (see FAA), it is no longer inconceivable that, in the absence of an agreement, Congress could allow the current authority for transportation programs to expire on September 30. Such a move would mean that thousands of construction projects across the country could be delayed. 

During the congressional recess, NLC encourages municipal officials to educate their congressional delegations on the importance of a modern and efficient transportation system on efforts to create jobs and to help reinvigorate local economies.

IV. DOT Announces TIGER Grant Webinar Series

Several weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced that third round of the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) competitive grants will soon be available to local and state governments. In advance of the October 3, 2011, application deadline, DOT is hosting a series of webinars to explain various aspects of the TIGER application process.

See below for the upcoming schedule; each webinar will be held from 1:00 to 2:30 PM EDT.  There are no registration fees, however space is limited and advance registration is required.  To register, click on the link below:

August 17: Benefit Cost Analysis
August 22: Project Readiness/NEPA
August 24: Public Private Partnerships & TIFIA
August 30: MARAD Port Outreach

In addition, three archived webinars are also available: Benefit/Cost Analysis Practitioner’s Workshop, How to Compete for TIGER Seminar, and “Talking Freight”.

For additional information about TIGER funding in general, please visit http://www.dot.gov/tiger

V. A Nationwide Public Safety Communications Network Still Possible

For years, building a nationwide interoperable public safety communications network has been a public safety priority for communities across the country, especially in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. While a lack of adequate radio spectrum has been the obstacle to making this a reality, a viable roadmap to achieving this continues to take shape. 

Besides the Administration's support, Senators John D. Rockefeller IV and Kay Bailey Hutchison are leading the bi-partisan effort in the Senate, co-sponsoring the Strengthening Public-safety and Enhancing Communications Through Reform, Utilization, and Modernization Act (S. 911), which would reallocate the critical radio spectrum to public safety to ensure a nationwide network and provide billions of dollars for its construction and maintenance through facilitating negotiations for broadcasters to sell underutilized spectrum to wireless companies. 

The House path is not so clear. Four bills have been introduced on the topic, each recommending different policy options that range from selling the D-Block of spectrum to the highest bidder in order to reduce the deficit to proposals similar to S. 911.

While many had hoped to see action on the legislation before the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, the fall congressional schedule makes that a long shot. 

VI. Citing Gridlock, Administration Proceeds with Reforms of No Child Left Behind

Concluding that congressional action to reform No Child Left Behind would not happen before the beginning of the school year, the Administration announced that, starting in September, it would grant education waivers to states so they may escape the "most onerous provisions" of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), provided that they are willing to embrace overall education reform.
According to the Administration, failure by Congress to act on a reform proposal left it no choice but to create a system of waivers that would allow states and local school districts take matters into their own hands to address education reforms.

Among the activities the Administration hopes states and local school districts will adopt after receiving waivers are college and career-ready standards, procedures for hiring highly skilled teachers and principals, robust use of data, and more flexible and targeted accountability systems based on measuring annual student growth and improvement.

For more information on the Administration's proposal, click here

VII. NLC Prepares to Reply to FCC

NLC has filed comments with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in response to the agency's Notice of Inquiry (NOI) entitled "Expanding the Reach and Reducing the Cost of Broadband Deployment by Improving Policies Regarding Public Rights of Way and Wireless Facilities Siting."
In the NOI, the FCC sought information from industry and local governments on a number of issues involving local public rights-of-way management, compensation, and wireless facilities siting requirements. Specifically, the NOI sought information and data regarding challenges, best practices, and educational efforts. In total, approximately 160 comments were filed with the FCC, the majority of which were filed by local governments. NLC will file reply comments by the August 30 deadline, responding to issues raised in industry filings.

Additionally, NLC has been reaching out communities named as "bad actors" in industry filings to make them aware of claims and to encourage them to respond to the allegations. The list of communities named in these filings is available here. Please contact NLC’s Laura Bonavita at bonavita@nlc.org if your community is on this list.

Thanks for your follow-up on these matters. 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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