|January 22, 2008
Federal Update for Period Ending January 18, 2008
The House returned to action last week. Congressional activity, including discussion of an economic stimulus package, will pick up this week as the Senate returns to Washington. Our friends at the National League of Cities (NLC) inform us of the important developments below.
Also, here are a couple of important upcoming dates. The President will deliver his final State of the Union address on Monday, January 28th, and will introduce his FY 2009 (and last) budget on February 4th.
NLC Leadership Sets 2008 Legislative Agenda
Efforts to secure continued federal funding to support local initiatives including transportation, public safety and energy and the environment, as well as finding solutions to the crisis in the housing market are among the top issues that NLC will bring to Congress as lawmakers return to Washington this month. NLC also will work to refocus federal attention on the need for immigration reform.
HOPE VI Reauthorization Passes House
On Thursday, the House passed H.R. 3524, the HOPE VI Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2007. The HOPE VI grant program is the only major source of federal funding available to local governments for the redevelopment and improvement of public housing. If passed by the Senate and signed into law, H.R. 3524 would reauthorize the HOPE VI program at a level of $800 million a year through 2015. In addition to funding, the bill requires that all public housing units in existence as of January 2005, which are proposed for demolition be replaced on a one-for-one basis. The bill also gives public housing agencies flexibility in meeting the one-for-one replacement obligations by establishing a limited waiver for compelling circumstances (such as a severe shortage of land). The bill, which NLC supports, also increases the amount of HOPE VI funds that can be used for community and social services, including vocational and employment training, and counseling to improve financial literacy. Finally, the bill establishes green building requirements on redevelopment projects to create healthier living environments and lower utility costs. The bill now heads to the Senate, where quick action is expected.
Small Systems Water Bill Introduced in Senate
Sens. James Inhofe (R-OK), Chuck Hagel (R-NE) and Ben Nelson (D-NE) introduced the Small Systems Safe Drinking Water Act of 2007 (S. 2509). If enacted, the bill would amend the Safe Drinking Water Act. It would prohibit the enforcement of certain national drinking water regulations if municipalities have not received enough federal funding to pay for the federal share of upgrades. The legislation applies to water systems serving fewer than 10,000 individuals. S. 2509 has been referred to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
Coalition Fights for Restoration of Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Funding
NLC, along with a coalition of public safety and local government associations, has been meeting with Congressional leadership to urge restoration of funding to the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program, better known as the Byrne-JAG program. Byrne-JAG provides grants to state and local governments for a broad range of innovative activities, from preventing and controlling crime to improving the criminal justice system. In FY 2007, the program was funded at $520 million. With the threat of a veto, competing priorities and a compressed timeline on appropriations, for FY 2008, Congress appropriated only $170.4 million for the program.
Transportation Commission Issues Report; NLC Member Input on Transportation Issues Requested
The Commission mandated by Congress to review the nation’s transportation system and provide recommendations for the next reauthorization grabbed headlines this week with their proposal to raise the gas tax substantially over the next few years. In addition to the revenue concerns expressed by the majority of the 12-member panel, the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission recommended a future switch to new methods of raising revenue, a major new investment in intercity rail, more accountability in how transportation dollars are spent, a focus on metropolitan transportation, and greater emphasis on environmentally-friendly transportation options. In preparation for the reauthorization of the surface transportation program, NLC is working with other state and local organizations on a joint survey to better understand and identify intergovernmental transportation issues and concerns. The results will be included in a report to Congress as a part of the reauthorization discussions next year NLC encourages you to provide your input to the survey process. The link to the online survey, if you would prefer to fill it out online is:
http://www.zoomerang.com/survey.zgi?p=WEB22789B58MCQ. If you would prefer a paper copy of the survey, please contact NLC’s Leslie Wollack, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 202.626.3029.
House and Senate Leaders, White House, and Federal Reserve Chief Pushing for Economic Stimulus Package
In a show of bi-partisanship, congressional leaders, the President, and the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, Ben Bernanke, expressed their support for an economic stimulus package that would help jump-start the faltering economy. The President called on Friday for a $140 billion to $145 billion mix of tax rebates for American families and incentives for businesses to provide "a shot in the arm to keep a fundamentally strong economy healthy" and avert a deep slide into recession. The president said the package "must be big enough to make a difference" in an economy as large as that of the United States, meaning it should be worth about 1 percent of the gross domestic product. The Federal Reserve Chairman has indicated already that he fully supports a temporary and targeted stimulus package. There appears to be agreement that the package finally passed will range between $100 and $150 billion. Among the elements of a package being considered are: (1) a one time tax rebate for working and middle class families; (2) expanded unemployment insurance coverage; (3) increased funding for home energy assistance programs; and (4) increased funding for the food stamp program. Congressional leaders have said that they believe an economic stimulus bill could be drafted and passed within a month if a broad outline of an agreement can be reached in the next several days.
Very truly yours,
William G. Dressel, Jr.