Meet Your Grassroots Advocate

“With longer sessions of Congress, federal elected officials are spending more time in D.C this year. Our members realize that they need to meet Congress here.”

Advanced registration for the Congressional City Conference ends this Friday. As part of our “Meet Your City Advocate” series introducing you to NLC’s Federal Advocacy team, we sat down with Ashley Smith, senior associate for grassroots advocacy, to learn more about NLC’s grassroots advocacy efforts and to find out what’s in store for “Capitol Hill Advocacy Day” during the conference this year.

Ashley Smith.jpg

Ashley Smith is the senior associate for grassroots advocacy at the National League of Cities (NLC/Brian Egan)

Name: Ashley Smith
Area of expertise: Grassroots Advocacy
Hometown: San Antonio, Texas

Ashley, thank you for taking the time to sit down with me today. To start off, can you tell us about your background?

Well, I grew up in San Antonio. Go Spurs! I’ve been at NLC almost a year now. Our Congressional City Conference (CCC) Capitol Hill Advocacy Day will be my anniversary.

Congrats!

Thank you! I went to the University of Kansas for undergrad, and then made my way to D.C. immediately after graduating. I knew I wanted to be in D.C., so I jumped on a plane without a job.

That’s how a lot of D.C. stories seem to start.

I made it work, though. I took a job at the Democratic Leadership Council, where I worked with state and local elected officials, and then joined a consulting firm working with nonprofits on issue advocacy campaigns. I’ve done a little bit of everything since coming here, but I love working in politics.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time working with local elected officials, so that’s what drew me to NLC. They’re just wonderful people to collaborate with, and I love empowering them to advocate for the work they do to help their residents day in and day out.

Cool. So why don’t you tell us about your job here at the National League of Cities? 

I manage our grassroots advocacy efforts, which encompasses a lot of things. Mostly, my work is to provide our members – the nation’s cities – with the tools and resources they need to effectively advocate for city priorities. I manage online and offline tools that members can use in their advocacy efforts. I also work to keep our members updated on opportunities to advocate for cities, and alert them when important legislation or city priorities are being addressed in Congress.

Most importantly, my job is making sure that members of Congress hear from local leaders directly. As you’ve heard in my colleagues’ previous interviews throughout this blog series, our lobbyists are always on the Hill advocating for city priorities – but it’s my job to make sure our members get on the Hill and in Congressional offices as well. That’s important because a Senator or Representative will listen to NLC lobbyists, but they really take note when we come into the office with a mayor or councilmember from their district. Our members are not only constituents – as local leaders, they represent other constituents, giving them a unique and powerful voice.

For sure! Can you tell us a bit about your role at the conference next week?

I’m there to engage with our members and to make sure they know of all the opportunities available to them. My biggest job though is to organize and run our Capitol Hill Advocacy Day. We’re planning to bring more than 500 members to 250 meetings on the Hill with members of both the House and Senate on March 15. I’m there to make sure everyone knows where to go and has their schedules, talking points and our great buttons.

I’m also leading two interactive workshops through our Federal Advocacy 101 training – one on Monday, the other on Tuesday. I encourage members to attend one if they are interested in learning more about how to have an effective meeting with a member of Congress – or if they just want to meet their grassroots advocate in person.

What are you most excited about for CCC?

I’m very excited by all the energy we’re seeing this year and the renewed sense of urgency for local leaders to come to D.C. Registration numbers for CCC are at their highest in years, and that is exciting.

With longer sessions of Congress, federal elected officials are spending more time in D.C. this year. Our members realize that they need to meet Congress here. We also have a new class of Congress, a new administration, and all new leadership in executive departments – and the members know that this means they need to come to D.C. to start building new local-federal partnerships.

I’m also excited to have nearly twice as many meetings available for NLC members on the Hill than last year. It’s another historic high we’ve hit.

That means you did your job well! So, last question – what is your spirit city?

That’s a hard question, but I’d say Washington, D.C.! I was one of those kids who was inspired by the West Wing, and after traveling to D.C. on a family trip when I was 13 years old, I was hooked and knew I wanted to live in D.C.

I also love living in a city comprised of people from all over the country. For all of the crazy politics that can go down here, it’s a great city with great people. I’m looking forward to welcoming our members here!

Join us at the 2017 Congressional City Conference and meet Ashley and the rest of your City Advocates. Advanced registration closes Friday, March 10!

brian-headshotAbout the author: Brian Egan is the Public Affairs Associate for NLC. Follow him on Twitter @BeegleME.

Meet Your City Technology and Communications Advocate

“It can seem tempting to default on the side of industry in the hopes of spurring innovation, but obviously you cannot prioritize the needs of one entity or company over those of all the other actors in the room – namely, local governments.”

Every week leading up to the Congressional City Conference, we will continue to feature “Meet Your City Advocate” spotlights as part of a series introducing you to NLC’s Federal Advocacy team. This week, I sat down with Angelina Panettieri, principal associate for technology and communications advocacy at NLC.

Angelina4.jpg

Angelina Panettieri is the principal associate for technology and communications at NLC (Brian Egan/NLC).

Name: Angelina Panettieri
Area of expertise: Technology and Communications
Hometown: near Winchester, Virginia
Federal Advocacy Committee: Information Technology & Communications (ITC)

Angelina, thanks for your time today. To start off, can you tell us about your background?

I grew up out in the country near Winchester, Virginia. So, fun fact: I never lived in a real city until college. Undergrad was the first time I lived in a place with sidewalks. I earned a BA and an MPA from George Mason University. I always knew I wanted to work in policy, and have worked for several other organizations before joining NLC. One of my first jobs was with a group that represented smaller chemical companies. I later joined an association that works with pharmacists. Now I work in technology and communications policy for cities, so you can see that I’ve always been interested in wonky technical topics. I started at NLC a few years back, working in grassroots advocacy.

So what specifically attracted you to technology and communications policy? 

It always interested me. It’s an area that seems to be growing. Technology and communications are areas that will likely shape our lives the most over the immediate future — and that means a lot for cities. Technology is starting to determine how we move around, what our housing looks like, what are jobs are, how we treat our patients.

There’s something we often say — broadband is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity. I compare it to the rural electrification project. Like the families that remained off-the-grid in the first half of the 20th century, we’re rapidly moving toward a world where internet is a necessary ingredient to success. Many people don’t realize that a huge portion of NLC’s members are small cities, and these are the places that are still working to get online. It’s exciting for me to advocate for them.

What do you think 2017 has in store for technology and communication policy, as far as cities are concerned?

I think this year will be interesting. We haven’t heard a lot from the president about where he wants to take tech policy – other than outspoken support for infrastructure and manufacturing, which will inevitably involve technology. Congress has had a backlog of technology-focused bills that they were not able to pass last year; I expect they will have more success this year. These bills are largely noncontroversial: expanding available spectrum, incentivizing infrastructure that includes broadband, etcetera. There are two places, however, that I think we should focus on: the FCC and state legislatures.

The new FCC chair, Commissioner Ajit Pai, has already indicated that he will shake things up over there. Our goal is to maintain a dialogue with all the commissioners and ensure that major policy changes are only made after the needs of cities have been considered. It can seem tempting to default on the side of industry in the hopes of spurring innovation, but obviously you cannot prioritize the needs of one entity or company over those of all the other actors in the room, namely local governments.

On the state side of things, we are seeing telecom and other technology bills moving very quickly through state houses. NLC doesn’t lobby state legislatures, but in this policy area in particular, we are seeing states drive a lot of what’s happening on the ground. I think Congress will continue to watch what’s happening in states as inspiration for federal policy in the future. But I may be jumping ahead to a 2018 or 2019 prediction.

Did you want to touch upon the 5G comment period going on right now?

Yes, of course! We’re involved in a proceeding at the FCC that’s focused on the local government permitting process for small cell wireless infrastructure. This is all leading up to the deployment of a new 5G wireless standard. The wireless industry is working to provide faster service to its customers, which requires moving up the spectrum. As you go higher, you need smaller antennas to broadcast a signal, and you need many more of them located closer together.

It’s a competition to offer the best 5G first, which means every company has already started applying for permits to install hundreds of thousands of these “small cells.” Now, the FCC is looking into whether existing regulations and permitting processes – mostly at the local level – are slowing this deployment down. NLC is most concerned about maintaining cities’ rights to protect their residents’ rights of way, and ensuring that they continue to get proper compensation for its use. 5G needs to happen without overwhelming and ignoring the needs of local governments.

Fascinating! And now for the hardest question: what’s your spirit city?

I have had a lot of time to think about this, so I can say with certainty: Wildwood, New Jersey.

Get out! You know I’m a South Jersey kid, so shore trips to Wildwood define my childhood.

I did not know that!

I’m glad someone doesn’t hear my accent. Why Wildwood, is it all of that Googie architecture?

Yes, I love Googie architecture! Really, I love everything about Wildwood. They have such a great pride in their history and fully embrace how quirky it is. I could spend every summer of my life there. They’ve doubled down on the classic fifties beach image and they run with it.

Join us at the 2017 Congressional City Conference and meet Angelina and the rest of your City Advocates.

brian-headshotAbout the author: Brian Egan is the Public Affairs Associate for NLC. Follow him on Twitter @BeegleME.

 

Meet Your Municipal Finance Advocate

“When cities are given the directive and the resources, projects just get done faster, more efficiently and with better end results.”

Every week leading up to the 2017 Congressional City Conference we’ll feature a “Meet Your City Advocate” spotlight as part of a series introducing you to NLC’s Federal Advocacy team. This week, I sat down with Brett Bolton, principal associate for finance & intergovernmental relations at NLC.

bolton

Brett Bolton is the principal associate for finance and intergovernmental relations at the National League of Cities. (Brian Egan/NLC)

Name: Brett Bolton
Area of expertise: Finance and Intergovernmental Relations
Hometown: Pensacola, Florida

Hey Brett, thanks for taking the time to do this interview with me. Why don’t you share a little bit about your background and why you are passionate about cities?

I was born and raised in Pensacola, Florida – the Navy originally brought my mom’s family down that way. I went to college in Birmingham, Alabama, and grad school in Tallahassee, Florida, before eventually making my way up to Washington. After school, I interned for Congressman Steve Southerland in his D.C. office. He represented Florida’s second district – basically the area along the panhandle between Panama City and Tallahassee. I wound up getting a staff position as a legislative correspondent and stayed there for two years. After my time on the Hill, I lobbied for the state of Florida. Most of my work there focused on securing funding for the Everglades and building partnerships between the state and FEMA. And then I came to NLC.

Why am I interested in cities? Well, there are a couple of reasons. Hurricane Ivan hit Pensacola in 2005 and pretty much wiped out whole neighborhoods in the city. The storm and ensuing devastation were horrible, but it did bring together a lot of actors in the same room to discuss rebuilding. Local leaders helped play a role in creating a renaissance in the city, and today the downtown is booming and businesses are thriving. It made me proud to watch my hometown get back up on its feet after the worst had happened. More importantly, the whole experience sparked an interest in local politics for me.

Secondly, I happened to be finishing up a degree in public administration at Samford University in Alabama right as the surrounding Jefferson County entered into bankruptcy. At that time, it was the largest municipal bankruptcy filing, and I began following how local finance.

Right, so Birmingham’s restructuring process really guided you into the world of municipal finance?

Yeah, it played a role for sure. It was an interesting process to watch as an MPA candidate. Honestly, working on Everglade issues also opened my eyes to how much a project’s execution could be improved simply by infusing more local control and directing more money to local governments. When cities are given the directive and the resources, projects just get done faster, more efficiently and with better end results. I also realized that states and the federal government can be partners to cities, but cities often have to rely on their own financing capacity bridge the gap between what they need to do on a daily basis and what they have been provided.

Interesting. Along those lines, what do you think 2017 has in store for municipal finance?

Well, that’s the million-dollar question right there. There’s some uncertainty for sure, but I don’t think we should expect any immediate or sudden changes in this lane. As you probably know, Speaker Ryan released a plan for tax reform in June, President Trump campaigned hard for corporate and personal tax reform, and Congressman Brady, the House chair of the Ways and Means Committee, says there will be a tax reform proposal. At the end of the day there are a lot of promises, but the fact of the matter remains that we haven’t seen many details as of yet.

Nonetheless, this all leads me to believe some sort of tax policy proposals will happen, just maybe not this instant. That’s what resolves us to keep pushing so hard to make sure city interests and voices are well heard at the table. We’re out there, and we are pushing to make sure the tax-exempt status of municipal bonds is protected, that state and local tax deductions remain, and we’re still working to get Chairman Goodlatte, from the House Judiciary Committee, to address marketplace fairness.

Sounds like a busy 2017. So what is your spirit city? 

This is the hard one! Is it cheesy if I go with my hometown?

No, not at all!

You know what? I have to say Chicago here. I am a food fanatic and the city of broad shoulders has the best food in my opinion. Best steak, best pizza, best everything. It’s a beautiful city with great people.

You ever go to the food festival?

No, never. I need to go, though!

Join us at the 2017 Congressional City Conference and meet Brett and the rest of your City Advocates.

brian-headshotAbout the author: Brian Egan is the Public Affairs Associate for NLC. Follow him on Twitter @BeegleME.

 

Meet Your City Energy and Environment Advocate

“[An overhaul of the EPA] is not something that can nor will happen overnight, but I think we know that it is something the new administration is interested in.” 

Every week leading up to the 2017 Congressional City Conference we’ll feature a “Meet Your City Advocate” spotlight as part of a series introducing you to NLC’s Federal Advocacy team. This week, I sat down with Carolyn Berndt, our program director for sustainability advocacy.

carolynberndt

Carolyn Berndt is the program director for sustainability advocacy at the National League of Cities. (Brian Egan/NLC)

Name: Carolyn Berndt
Area of expertise: Environment and Sustainability
Hometown: Winchester, Mass.

Carolyn, thanks for sitting down with me today. To kick it off, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background. Where are you from, where have you been, what have you done? 

Well, I’m from Winchester, Massachusetts, not too far from Boston.

Oh, I guess the Super Bowl went the way you had hoped.

I was wondering how long it would take me to slip a ‘Go Pats!’ into this interview. But, yes – I’m from a suburb just north of Boston, but moved down to D.C. right after college. I didn’t have a job at that point, but I knew I wanted to be in Washington. I’ve had three jobs in government relations, but I never had a personal connection to the first two. I started working with a nuclear engineering company. Fascinating topics and interesting, but not the most engaging job if you’re not devoted to all things nuclear. My second job was with the American Society of Interior Designers doing state advocacy and grassroots, and again, I just wasn’t an interior designer. Both jobs had me working in government relations and I gained an interest in public policy, so I decided to pursue a Master’s in Public Administration from American University.

Go AU.

That was when I really started to think about cities and local government. Chris Hoene, who used to be NLC’s director of research, did a guest lecture for one of my classes at American.

So Chris Hoene was like the former Brooks Rainwater [NLC’s current director of research]?

Yes, sort of. I remember sitting in class and thinking I should check out the National League of Cities. Eighteen months later I landed a job with NLC! What makes my time at NLC different from my previous jobs is that I’m passionate about my city and the neighborhood where I live. It upsets me when people rag on Washington. I understand frustrations with policy and politicians, but D.C. is my home – and it’s actually a very nice place with great people and a great community to live, work and play. I have a profound respect for local leaders and the communities they help shape every day. Everyone deserves to be proud of their city — and everyone deserves a clean and safe environment.

Well, that segues nicely into my next question: Why sustainability policy? 

I more or less fell into it. I have always been passionate about the subject, having spent a lot of time outdoors as a kid – the beach, the mountains, our national parks – and I took several environmental policy classes in undergrad and grad school. And now, as a parent, there is the basic desire to leave my children with a clean and sustainable future.

I always see cities as being ‘pragmatic environmentalists.’ We all want and need clean air and water, but from the local government perspective there are costs. I’m seeing some cities advance sustainability policies for environmental reasons, but many do it because it just makes economic sense for them. They find in the long run it’s ultimately cheaper to invest in sustainable practices now, particularly with disaster preparedness, rather than ignore it and face the higher costs later.

Interesting. So what do you think 2017 has in store for city sustainability policy?

We hope to have conversations with the new administration and Congress on where they see energy and environmental policy going. Some of the messaging has been around an “all of the above” energy strategy. On the issue of climate change, NLC and cities have been supportive of policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, like energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. I hope that climate adaptation and disaster preparedness stay priorities for the federal government. I think it’s hard to argue against being prepared for natural disasters, and cities are the first responders.

The administration has made it clear they want to overhaul the EPA, everything from programs and policies to regulations. This could have a big impact on local governments. While cities certainly have some concerns about various agency rulemakings, there are many programs at EPA that work very well for cities, such as the Brownfields program. And of course programs like the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Funds and WIFIA are important for funding water infrastructure development.

Do you see cities picking up the gauntlet in the absence of federal leadership on sustainability?

I think cities have already been leading. When I came to NLC, “sustainability” was a relatively new thing and NLC had just adopted a comprehensive sustainability resolution. But since that time, more and more cities have been leading many of the commonsense and innovative environmental policies spreading across the country. Cities will continue to lead in this space, and they’ll continue to look for a federal partner.

I feel like I might already know your answer to the next question, but what is your spirit city?

Well… I’ll always be a New Englander at heart, but I’m afraid I have to steal Matt’s answer here and say San Diego. I love being outside and I love the beach. The idea of having 75-degree perfect weather year round sounds wonderful!

Join us at the 2017 Congressional City Conference and meet Carolyn and the rest of your City Advocates.

brian-headshotAbout the author: Brian Egan is the Public Affairs Associate for NLC. Follow him on Twitter @BeegleME

Meet Your City Public Safety Advocate

“Public safety will certainly be at the forefront of many of the issues that both the new administration and Congress address.”

Every week leading up to the Congressional City Conference we will continue to feature “Meet Your City Advocate” spotlights as part of a series. This week, I sat down with Yucel (“u-jel”) Ors, program director for public safety advocacy at NLC.

yucel

Yucel Ors is the program director for public safety advocacy at the National League of Cities. (Brian Egan/NLC)

Name: Yucel Ors
Area of Expertise: Public Safety
Hometown: Pittsburgh

Yucel, thanks for sitting down with me today. I wanted to make sure our readers got to hear from you, given the executive order of sanctuary cities last week. Before I jump into that, tell us about your background – where you’ve been, what you’ve done, and why you are passionate about cities.

I’ve lived and worked at a lot of places. My family came here from Turkey when I was younger, and we settled in Pittsburgh, so that’s ultimately home.

After high school, I went to work on Wall Street for a while until Black Monday, the market crash in ’87. I decided a career in financial markets was too risky, so I left Wall Street to earn a B.A. in Political Science at William Patterson. After college, I moved down to Alexandria to work in the Northern Virginia office for Senator Robb of Virginia for a short while, and then got a job at a law firm in Washington, D.C. as a legal assistant for regulatory and corporate clients. When my wife got a job offer in Orlando, Florida, we decided to move to the Sunshine State, where I pursued my masters in Political Science at the University of Central Florida and then took a job with the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials, or APCO. After some years, APCO announced plans to open a satellite office in Washington, D.C., and I saw an opportunity. I followed them here and served as the director for their government relations office.

After that, I found myself at the National League of Cities. Cities are where things happen. Look, I’ve been a city kid my whole life. Growing up in Pittsburgh instilled an intense sense of hometown pride and that translated into a broader interest in cities. My interest in public safety is what really guided me to NLC. I spent a great deal of time with APCO working to provide first responders the communications tools they need to do their job, and that’s a big part of city life.

Right. Well along that vein, why public safety and crime prevention advocacy?

When I started at APCO, I didn’t imagine I would be this passionate about public safety. I thought my life would be working towards attaining a law degree and maybe someday be a professor at a university. And honestly, it’s largely because of my days in Lower Manhattan that I developed such a respect and interest for public safety policy, particularly in cities.

I wasn’t in New York in 2001, but I took the PATH train from Jersey City into the World Trade Center every day in my past life. Nine-eleven occurred while I was at APCO, and watching the news just brought back a flood of memories. It felt very personal. During the wake of the terror attacks there was a lot of discussion around public safety communications. My job at APCO took on a whole new meaning and became much more than a source of income. My day-to-day work suddenly had a tremendous purpose.

Thanks for sharing. That’s amazing that you have such a deep connection to the work you do. Part of the reason I wanted to interview you this week was because we’ve seen some updates in your portfolio over the past week or so. What do you think 2017 has in store for public safety policy in cities?

Public safety will certainly be at the forefront of many of the issues that both the new administration and Congress address. The biggest challenge I foresee is answering the question of what is the role of local law enforcement, and how could federal actions support or impede that role?

We’ve seen an effort to place federal immigration enforcement responsibilities on local law enforcement that could inhibit the ability of local officers to best do their job. I believe there is no such thing as a real “sanctuary city,” because no city is blocking federal enforcement agents from doing their jobs. Rather, we’re seeing duties of federal enforcement being placed on local authorities.

We can also expect criminal justice to come back up as an issue this year. As we move forward with policy changes, we need to continue providing local governments with the resources they need to continue reintegrating prisoners back into the community and limiting recidivism. That means that any solutions need to include policies on education, jobs, housing, etc.

And of course the opioid crisis is ongoing. We had major victories last year in obtaining federal funding for the epidemic, but more is definitely needed. State and local governments will need to demonstrate what they are doing with those additional resources, and highlighting the successes they’ve had on these fronts in order to secure more funding. There’s still $500 million in the air, and we don’t know if it’s going to be available in 2018.

Finally, community policing. We need to continue making sure that local governments are getting federal support to improve officer training, especially on how to deescalate situations, and have the tools needed to improve police community relations.

And of course, everyone’s favorite question, what’s your spirit city?

Oh definitely Pittsburgh. For sure.

“The ‘burgh,” so certain…

It’s not even a question. You know living in Maryland and being constantly surrounded by Ravens fans…

Makes life hard?

Very! Anytime the Steelers and Ravens play, I’m always outnumbered. But Pittsburgh is home. It’s a big city with a small hometown heart. Where else can you be surrounded by skyscrapers and still feel like you’re still on Main Street? I’ve watched it conquer many of its major past challenges, and I’m proud to call it home.

Join us at CCC and meet Yucel and the rest of your City Advocates. Visit the CCC website to register now!

brian-headshotAbout the author: Brian Egan is the Public Affairs Associate for NLC. Follow him on Twitter @BeegleME

Meet Your City Human Development Advocate

“Policy in the human development sphere is all about improving quality of life.”

With a new administration and a new Congress, the National League of Cities’ (NLC) Federal Advocacy team will be busy raising the voices of cities throughout 2017. As part of our initiative, we wanted to introduce you all to our Federal Advocacy team members and share what’s on their minds for 2017. Every week leading up to the Congressional City Conference, we will feature a “Meet Your City Advocate” spotlight as part of a series. This week, I sat down with our human development lobbyist, Stephanie Martinez-Ruckman.

stephaniemr

Stephanie Martinez-Ruckman is the program director for human development advocacy at the National League of Cities. (NLC photo/Brian Egan)

Hey Stephanie, thanks for sitting down with me today. I wanted to make sure I interviewed you early on in the process given the discussion around healthcare, but we’ll get to that in a minute. To get started, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself? Where you’ve been? What you’ve done? And most importantly, why you are passionate about cities?

Well, I’m originally from D.C., and then I moved up to Massachusetts for college. I came back to Washington to work on the Hill — in both the House and the Senate. That was in the early 2000s, and it was definitely a hectic time. September 11th had just happened, and then there was the anthrax scare.

I started working in the office for the newly-elected Senator Hillary Clinton, and then went on to work for Representative Payne, whose district covered the Newark and parts of North Jersey area. I mostly focused on transportation policy.

Oh your background is starting to sound very similar to Matt’s: transportation policy, working on the Hill, Jersey. 

Ha-ha, I know – but transportation just was not my thing. I then switched over to the Senate to work with Senator Landrieu of Louisiana, and I started to focus more on health and education — topics like social security, healthcare, etcetera. So that’s where I really laid the foundation for the policy area I work on today. Senator Landrieu was very passionate about adoption issues; both her children and her husband were adopted. While working through those case issues, I deepened my interest in how federal policy impacts individuals.

I left the Hill and headed to New York to go to Columbia for graduate school – and ended up staying for 12 years! I spent some time working for the Bloomberg administration, as the policy director for the city’s workforce investment board. We were responsible for the oversight and implementation of the federal Workforce Investment Act at the local level in New York City.

It was fascinating to come from a world of working on crafting federal policy, and then be afforded the chance to see how it is implemented at the local level. You can work on a lot of fancy things in Washington, but you really measure a program or an initiative based on how well its being implemented and the results you see at the local level.

Immediately before coming to NLC, I did government relations for the New York Public Library. I dabbled into all different policy areas there because of the amazing mandate and reach of libraries, and gained a broad swath of policy experience there — including a front row seat to the city budgeting process. And then I came back to D.C.! Partially to return home, but also [because] NLC was an amazing opportunity to continue my work with cities.

Very cool! You already answered a lot of my second question just now, but why human development policy? Anything else you wanted to add?

Yeah, for me, human development — and all of the services designed to help people that fit under this umbrella term — is a bit of a nexus of all different policy areas. Your citizens need quality healthcare, great, but they also need reliable transportation to access that healthcare.

And ultimately, it’s the people connection. Policy in the human development sphere is all about improving quality of life. I think you see the fruits of labor here — perhaps more so than in most policy areas — because you see the people who benefit from the policies. That’s always been very important to me.

Yeah, definitely. Well along the lines of policy, what do you see in store for human development policy and cities in 2017? 

There are really three pieces to watch. The infrastructure bill should be coming soon, and hopefully there’s a workforce component to it. Any infrastructure investment will create jobs, but I’m also looking for a focus on training that leads to more sustained job creation with career pathways. There are people out of work, and I’d love to see how this bill could reengage and support them, even after the funding runs out. On the education front, we have the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). There may be some examination into college affordability and federal financial aid. And then the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Ah yes, the white elephant in the room.

Yes. Earlier this month, Congress passed a budget proposal instructing the committees of jurisdiction to come up with language that would repeal the ACA. And President Trump has signed an executive order on his first day in office calling for its repeal.

We are in a waiting period at the moment, but NLC has made it very clear that any repeal of the ACA must include a simultaneous replacement. We need to make sure that the financial burdens of healthcare reform don’t fall onto local governments. Whether that’s resulting in an overload of local health resources from millions of additional American’s becoming uninsured, or local healthcare initiatives losing their funding.

Twelve percent of the Center for Disease Control’s budget is appropriated through the ACA. We’re mostly talking about public health programs and vaccination programs. And there’s also grant money through the CDC that flows directly to local areas. Most of the time public healthcare is not administered by a city, but the impacts of health policy often fall on local governments. We’re following this one particularly close.

That’s really interesting about the CDC budgeting. Well, I have my favorite question next. What is your spirit city? With which city do you identify the most?

Oh, don’t judge me.

I would never.

I know it sounds cliché, but I have always been a New York City kind of a person. I’ve always wanted to live there and I had the amazing opportunity to do it. It’s a very interesting place to innovate and try things and then replicate. I think about the first lady of New York’s Thrive Initiative on mental health. New York has the financial ability to experiment with these municipal projects that, if they work, can grow to other cities.

And I mean, you have all that, and then you have great food and great theater as well.

Join us at CCC and meet Stephanie and the rest of your City Advocates. Visit the CCC website to register now!

brian-headshotAbout the author: Brian Egan is the Public Affairs Associate for NLC. Follow him on Twitter @BeegleME

Forecasting the Future of Cities Under President Trump

Campaign rhetoric can give us insight into a politician’s perspective, even after they take office.

This is a guest post by Dr. Michael Pagano.

The 2016 presidential campaign rhetoric was laced with mischaracterizations of cities, even as we have come to understand the importance of cities and metro regions as the nation’s key economic drivers in the 21st Century. Yet, campaign rhetoric and the candidates’ statements do speak to an understanding of each candidate’s perspectives on cities and their connections to the federal government.

Rather than work through the list of proposed people-based programs and estimate their potential city impacts, let’s take a look at three broad federal policy areas that will certainly be (or already have been) addressed by the Trump Administration and that clearly have a place-based dimension: infrastructure, tax reform, and sanctuary cities.

infrastructurepagano

America’s infrastructure needs attention. While much is still unknown about the future of infrastructure in American cities, there are some indications of where we are headed. (Getty Images)

Infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) grades the nation on its infrastructure deficit, and the latest report card isn’t pretty. A failing or near-failing grade is commonplace, and ASCE estimates $3.6 trillion as the infrastructure deficit – a staggering shortfall.

Although President Donald Trump’s infrastructure plan is still being shaped, the role that cities play in designing the infrastructure plan – and, more importantly, the extent to which the Trump administration will focus on local infrastructure needs – is not entirely known. But here’s what we do know:

First, it is clear that the Trump Administration will call on public-private partnerships (PPPs) to boost spending by $550 billion (and up to $1 trillion, as he proposed during the campaign). In confirmation hearings, Trump’s nominee for DOT Secretary, Elaine Chao, raised the prospects of PPPs to rebuild the nation’s highway system. This kind of PPP activity tends to be unattractive for fixed assets that are ‘jointly consumed’ (e.g., city hall, courts, police stations, fire engines, parks). Shared assets are hard to price according to use, and it is equally difficult to assign a ‘fee’ for their services. However, the more cities can benefit from PPPs (e.g., bridges, water, transit), the more freed-up capital they will have for ‘jointly consumed’ public assets. PPPs may be tempting for cities with massive infrastructure needs and backlogged maintenance projects, but cities should move cautiously to assure that taxpayers’ investments are secure and treated the same as private investments.

Second, infrastructure investment can be for creating new projects as well as maintaining existing structures. Although politicians prefer to attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open a new building or bridge, it’s important to appreciate that both new construction and maintenance projects are necessary and spur local economic activity. And, given the state of so much municipal infrastructure, a federal plan should emphasize ‘maintaining’ these existing structures.

Third, if we learned anything from the 2009 federal government stimulus grants, it’s that infrastructure block grants delegated to states don’t always trickle down to the local level. Cities often know their infrastructure needs better than states do, so cities should be offered the authority and responsibility to decide on the infrastructure projects that they find critical to their economic development strategies.

taxreformpagano

Tax reform could have repercussions for cities’ abilities to finance local projects. (Getty Images)

Tax Reform. Whether it’s massive, like the 1986 Tax Reform Act, or just incremental, cities will feel the impact of any potential tax reform. President Trump has said in no uncertain terms that the tax brackets need to be lowered. And although he hasn’t embraced it, there is also talk of eliminating the tax exemption on municipal bonds. Coupled, these two ‘tax reform’ initiatives could reduce municipal issues, which means fewer city-financed infrastructure projects as the costs of infrastructure rises.

Elimination of the tax-exempt status of municipal bonds would reduce the value of bond issues, as the interest rates would increase to compete with the corporate sector for capital. The municipal bond market would most likely require a premium from municipal issuers that, assuming all other things equal, could possibly raise the borrowing costs to cities by some 2 percent more or less. A 200 basis point penalty would probably diminish the volume of municipal bond issuances.

A second tax reform proposal would reduce both the individual and the corporate income tax rates. There appears to be little disagreement that tax rates will be reduced, but at what cost? If the tax-exempt status of municipal bonds is preserved, lowered income and corporate tax rate schedules could reduce the attractiveness of tax-exempt bonds.  Reducing the top marginal tax rate from 39.6 percent to 33 percent or lower would require the market to increase the interest rates on municipal bonds to compensate investors. City investment in infrastructure would most likely fall.

sanctuarycitiespagano

Ellis Island has come to embody America’s symbol as a melting pot. The debate around “sanctuary cities” goes beyond ideological debates around America’s immigration policy. (Getty Images)

Sanctuary cities. Many of the nation’s largest cities have declared themselves sanctuary cities, by which they mean that they have chosen to limit the voluntary role cities play in federal immigration enforcement.

Under the U.S. Constitution, immigration is a federal (as opposed to state or local) responsibility. Although cities may choose to cooperate with federal authorities, these cities argue that they will not divert city resources to fulfill a federal responsibility. Cities that have declared themselves as sanctuaries do so from a variety of positions. Philadelphia, for example, refers to itself as a 4th Amendment city, meaning that the city refuses to hold persons without a warrant.

President Trump’s Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States executive order, signed earlier this week, directs his Secretary of Homeland Security and Attorney General to prohibit federal grants going to cities and other jurisdictions that do not comply with their interpretation of immigration enforcement law. In other words, President Trump appears to be trying to “make good” on his promise to shut off federal funding to sanctuary cities. While it remains unclear which and to what extent cities will be affected by this order, it very well could spur enormous consequences if it emboldens Congress to amend legislation governing the distribution of federal funds. Reconsideration and passage of legislation similar to a failed bill that was introduced in 2016, called the “Stop Dangerous Sanctuary Cities Act”, would wreak considerable havoc for cities.

Chicago, for example, receives nearly $1 billion from federal sources, as does San Francisco; New York City’s federal revenues amount to $7 billion. One estimate of withdrawing federal funds to Chicago and four sister agencies of the city places the impact at some $3.6 billion. And other sanctuary cities receive funds, ranging from federal COPs money to CDBG, which could be in danger if Congress approves.

Even should the penalty for being a sanctuary city be restricted to just ‘policing’ grants, as has been proposed, the impact could still challenge the financial stability of cities. And given cities’ fiscal positions, withholding any federal support would trouble cities. City finances have yet to rebound to pre-Great Recession levels.

An Urban Agenda?

President Trump has other people-based proposals that will have an urban impact, such as reforming primary and secondary education, modifying federal housing programs, and overhauling the Affordable Care Act – but these are broad social issues that affect people residing in cities and rural areas alike. Yet, because the majority of the U.S. population today resides in cities, shifts in these policy areas will disproportionately impact local governments. Any people- and place-based proposal that affects cities or city residents will affect the health, safety and welfare of the American people, and they will affect the nation’s GDP.

Cities are resilient, and cities can adjust to these and other shifts in the federal landscape depending in large part on how much local autonomy they possess. And the relative capacity of cities to adjust to changing circumstances is governed by states. Resiliency depends in large part by how much decision-making authority states allow. Given the numerous policy arenas that Trump has said he will change, cities need to be nimble. To be nimble, states must work with cities so they can adequately adjust and continue to be the economic engines of the nation.

michael_pagano_125x150About the author: Dr. Michael Pagano is the dean at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s College of Urban Planning and Public Administration. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelAPagano

Protecting the Inauguration Requires the Nation’s Cities to Come Together

An inauguration requires an incredible amount of law enforcement officers to keep spectators and protesters safe. Such a feat is only accomplished with the help of local police officers from around the country.

US Marshals Feature.png

On Thursday afternoon, more than 3,000 local and state police officers from around the country were sworn in at the D.C. Armory as temporary U.S. deputy marshals to protect the inauguration and parade route. (NLC photo / Brian Egan)

Thousands of Americans convene in Washington every four years to witness and celebrate the peaceful transition of power from one president to the next. As Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), chairman of the Committee on Inaugural Activities, noted in his opening remarks at the inauguration this morning, up until America’s second inauguration there had been “many [leaders in history] who had gain control of a government, but few who had peacefully given it up.”

The entire inaugural process showcases and features and Americans from cities all around the country: high school marching bands, church choirs and local leaders. But what is often not covered by the media is the number of city police forces that have come together to help keep Washington, D.C. safe during today’s events.

Twenty-eight thousand federal and non-federal law enforcement officers have been deployed to protect inaugural spectators and protesters over the long weekend. Although this ceremonial transfer of power is a truly Washington experience, more than 3,000 of these officers are wearing the uniforms of local and state police forces from around the country.

us-marshalls-ceremony-4

Director of the U.S. Marshals Service administered the oath yesterday afternoon. (NLC photo / Brian Egan)

Every four years, thousands of local police officers from cities are invited to protect the incoming president’s parade route along Pennsylvania Avenue. Officials expected 700,000 to 900,000 people to attend the president’s inauguration, which places a tremendous need for additional law enforcement officers from outside of Washington.

Yesterday, visiting officers convened for a morning of security briefings and a unique ceremony — their swearing in as temporary U.S. Deputy Marshals. On the day before each inauguration, the Director of the U.S. Marshals Service swears in the 3,000 plus visiting officers. NLC headed to the D.C. Armory to watch the ceremony.

Officers from Minneapolis to Miami were in attendance to take the oath.

US Marshals Bowser.png

Muriel Bowser opened the ceremony on Thursday by thanking the more than 3,0000 officers in town this weekend. (NLC photo / Brian Egan)

“The world will see just how much American law enforcement regards and protects this ceremony of a peaceful presidential transition,” said Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington, D.C at the opening of the ceremony.

The mayor’s gratitude and thanks to the officers in town were echoed in closing remarks by Peter Newsham, the interim chief of police for Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department, “my closing remarks are the same as the mayor’s opening, thank you for your service.”

While today may be about the peaceful transfer of power, it is important to recognize the city police and staff that keep it peaceful.

brian-headshotAbout the author: Brian Egan is the Public Affairs Associate for NLC. Follow him on Twitter @BeegleME

Congratulations President Trump – Now Let’s Work Together

Regardless of party affiliation and policy disagreements, the model of local input in the federal process over the recent years should be replicated, not rejected.

(Wikimedia Commons)

(Wikimedia Commons)

This is a guest post by Mayor Craig Thurmond.

Today, hundreds of thousands gather in Washington, D.C. to witness the 58th Inauguration in American history. People have traveled across the nation to watch Donald J. Trump be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. On behalf of the National League of Cities, we congratulate incoming President Trump and look forward to a productive partnership with his administration over the next four years.

Inauguration Day is an important ceremony for our country as it embodies the peaceful transition of power upon which our democracy is built. As a local elected leader, I recognize what it means for me to be present at this historic event.

While today we witness the passage of power on the federal level, we can’t forget that hundreds of thousands of local elected leaders around the country take part in the same action – swearing an oath to faithfully execute the duties of the offices we hold. Like the new president, we commit ourselves to supporting the Constitution of the United States, which is why we must recognize the importance of building federal partnerships for cities across the country, such as my city of Broken Arrow. Our political system relies on the collaboration of all three levels of government: local, state and federal. It is therefore critical that cities have a voice when it comes to the federal policies created in Washington – and it is even more critical that Washington listen.

Over the past eight years, the National League of Cities has praised certain policies of the Obama Administration and deeply criticized others. One policy that should be commended is the Administration’s willingness to work with local leaders who strive to make their voices heard in Washington. Regardless of party affiliation and policy disagreements, the model of local input in the federal process over the recent years should be replicated, not rejected.

On Tuesday, I heard incoming Vice President Mike Pence speak at the U.S. Conference of Mayors. I urge you to read the full transcript when it becomes available. For now, I wanted to call your attention to his message about partnership: “We’re working for the people, after all. The president-elect and I are determined to forge strong partnerships between the federal government and the cities of this country. Make no mistake about it, we both believe that you have the most important jobs in public service.” As members of the National League of Cities, local elected officials like myself know that NLC is the best-placed organization to help build those bridges.

I am proud to celebrate the inauguration of our 45th President. I implore him to find local voices to put in his White House and to always seek out the local perspective. I feel optimistic about the role cities will play in this new administration, but I know that good federal leadership always thinks about how its policies will be enacted at the local level.

That’s why I came to Washington this weekend: to congratulate our new president, and let him know that America’s cities are willing and ready to work with his administration. And that’s why I’ll be back here in March for the 2017 Congressional City Conference – because cities need a voice in Washington.

craig_thurmond_125x150About the author: Craig Thurmond is the mayor of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. He was first elected to City Council in 2001 and served as Vice Mayor from 2003-07 and again from 2010-12.

Meet Your City Transportation Advocate

“My ask of the new administration is that we start putting money directly in the hands of cities – that’s where the outcomes would be the greatest.” – NLC’s Matt Colvin

mattcolv

Matt Colvin is the principal associate for transportation advocacy. (Brian Egan/NLC)

With a new administration and a new Congress, the National League of Cities’ Federal Advocacy team will be busy elevating the voices of cities throughout 2017 and beyond. As part of our 2017 initiative we’re introducing our Federal Advocacy team members and sharing with you what’s on their minds for 2017. Every week leading up to the Congressional City Conference we will feature a “Meet Your City Advocate” spotlight. To kick the series off, I sat down with our transportation and infrastructure lobbyist, Matt Colvin, principal associate for transportation advocacy.

Name: Matt Colvin

Area of expertise: Transportation and Infrastructure

Federal Advocacy Committee: Transportation and Infrastructure Services

Hometown: Los Angeles

Follow on Twitter: @MatthewAColvin

Hey Matt, thanks again for sitting down with me today. To get started, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself? Where you’ve been? What you’ve done? And most importantly, why you are passionate about cities?

Sure! I’m originally from Los Angeles, but lived with family in Barrington, Illinois after high school — it’s a suburb northwest of Chicago. I started community college out that way and then transferred to the University of San Diego where I earned a B.A. in political science and environmental studies. After moving around a bit, I wound up working on Capitol Hill for Senator Menendez and later for Congressman Sires — both represent New Jersey. I went on to serve as a federal policy manager for the Safe Routes to School National Partnership prior to joining NLC.

Why cities? Well, with the exception of the small Jamaican fishing village that I lived in while serving in the Peace Corps, I’ve lived most of my life in large cities. On top of that, serving for members of Congress — both former mayors — representing New Jersey, a state with 7 of the 10 most densely populated cities in the country, ingrained in me an interest and deep respect for city leaders and the work that they do.

So, why transportation policy?

I’ve always been a rail and cars type of guy. I even once took a train from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles.

Oh wow!

But to be honest, I didn’t see myself going down this path when I moved to D.C. The interest in transportation and infrastructure has always been there, but I saw myself headed down a career path in environmental advocacy.

I started doing energy, environment, and transportation policy work for Senator Menendez, who chairs the Senate subcommittee with jurisdiction over transit. Working on the passage of the MAP-21 transportation bill for him in 2012 really sparked my interest in the issue area. Later, when an opportunity came up to staff Congressman Sires on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I jumped on it.

Transportation lets you get at the cross section of energy and the environment. These policies that you work on get mobilized in a way that not many other areas do not in the current political climate. The best part is that this line of work leads to both economically and physically healthier and stronger communities.

As a side note, the transportation policy community is refreshingly non-partisan. It very much feels like an area of broad consensus in an increasingly partisan world. We all want better infrastructure in our communities. Of course there is still disagreement about how and when things get done, but it’s nice to see that we all want things to get done.

What do you see in store for transportation policy and cities in 2017 with a new administration and Congress?

I think it’s still a bit of an unknown. The Trump Administration is talking about a trillion-dollar infrastructure program that will use tax credits to spur public private partnerships. I think it’s early to tell exactly what  his final proposal will look like, but I think it’s exciting that we just came off of a campaign in which both parties passionately discussed transportation and infrastructure.

The American Society of Civil Engineers report card gave America a D+ across all areas of infrastructure. Our infrastructure used to be the envy of the world, but we’re at a place now where bridges collapse and congestion is costing our families thousands of dollars every year and we still don’t see more federal funding to bring our infrastructure truly into the 21st century.

Congress and the administration are talking about doing something here, and we need this investment. Elaine Chao, the nominee for Secretary of Transportation, has discussed this need in her confirmation hearing. She also indicated that whatever comes down the pipeline in the next few years will likely be a mix of funding and financing tools, so I think cities should see that as a sign of hope. I also see this as a positive message that cities can bring to the Capitol Hill when they come to advocate; we should look into public private partnerships as part of the solution, but we still need that revenue.

My ask of the administration is that we start putting money directly in the hands of cities, that’s where the outcomes would be the greatest.

Outside of Washington, the intersection of transportation and technology is only going to advance in 2017. We’re going to have more and more questions and answers as to how these new technologies interact with our existing infrastructure. Whether it’s autonomous vehicles or ridesharing, it’s all pretty exciting.

Finally, a fun question, what is your spirit city? With which city do you identify the most?

San Diego. I mean for the weather alone. I think San Diego has some of the most incredible public spaces — from all of the beaches to Balboa park. But seriously, that 75-degree weather year round is pretty great.

Join us at CCC and meet Matt Colvin as well as the rest of your City Advocates. Visit the CCC website to register now!

brian-headshot About the author: Brian Egan is the Public Affairs Associate for NLC. Follow him on Twitter @BeegleME