City Leaders Will Fight the Cuts Because Cities Are Worth Fighting For

The president’s budget proposal represents a vision of unprecedented withdrawal of federal investment in America’s neighborhoods and communities.

Small and rural cities in particular generally lack the tax base to absorb cuts at the level the White House has proposed. (Getty Images)

President Donald Trump’s “skinny budget” proposes more than $50 billion in domestic spending reductions across the board, and would outright eliminate dozens of programs important to cities and towns. For city leaders, cuts of this magnitude are not merely a question of how to do a little more with a little less. That’s a question that has already dogged local officials for years as a result of the relatively smaller annual funding cuts to city priorities resulting from sequestration. It’s also a question city leaders have had to contend with because of the growing number of state-mandated caps on local tax and revenue authority.

The president’s budget proposal not only asks cities and towns to do a lot more with a lot less, it represents a vision of unprecedented withdrawal of federal investment in America’s neighborhoods and communities and an abandonment of the role the federal government traditionally plays as a stakeholder in cities, the nation’s economic engines and centers of opportunity.

A quick scan of programs proposed for elimination revels what is at stake for all American cities, large and small:

  • Community Development Block Grants (CDBG)
  • HOME Investment Partnerships Program for Affordable Housing
  • Economic Development Administration Grants (EDA)
  • Transit New Starts for Public Transportation
  • TIGER Grants for Public Transportation Projects
  • Minority Business Development Agency
  • Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Grants
  • Low Income Home Energy Assistance (LIHEAP)
  • National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)
  • Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grants
  • State Criminal Alien Assistance Grants
  • Community Services Block Grant (CSBG)
  • Weatherization Assistance Program
  • The Clean Power Plan

NLC President Matt Zone has pointed out that the president’s budget proposal runs directly counter to his campaign promise to lift up America’s cities – and in fact, the worst impacts of the cuts will be felt in the small towns and rural communities the president promised to prioritize. That’s because small and rural cities generally lack the tax base to absorb cuts at this level, and will be forced to make tough decisions that could have drastic human consequences.

The Community Development Block Grants program is a good example. For many reasons, NLC has had to lead efforts to “Save CDBG” from significant cuts or elimination every few years. Among those reasons is the fact that, from the viewpoint of federal lawmakers, CDBG can look like a “big city” program with a level of flexibility that makes outcomes difficult to measure. In reality, when the threat to CDBG is real, small-town leaders are always at the forefront of NLC advocacy to save the program. That’s because CDBG is one of the few programs that funds infrastructure improvements, such as water towers or main street redevelopment, in small and rural communities.

NLC is calling on Congress to throw out the White House’s budget proposal and develop a new plan focused on building prosperity, expanding opportunity, and investing in our future. Whatever the outcome, we know that real-life stories from local officials on the impact of federal programs will carry the day. That’s why we’re asking city leaders from communities large and small to help us fight the cuts by showing Congress why their city is worth fighting for.

mike_wallace_125x150About the author: Michael Wallace is the Program Director of Federal Advocacy at the National League of Cities. Follow him on Twitter @MikeWallaceII.

Five Issues Tackled by Youth Delegates at the Congressional City Conference

The delegates designed their own sessions focused on leadership and skill development, developed strategies to solve problems in their communities, and learned the importance of advocacy at all levels of government.

Youth delegates at the Congressional City Conference learn to lobby, advocate, and collaborate on the issues that matter most to them. (Jason Dixson/NLC)

This is the fifth post in a series highlighting NLC’s 2017 Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C., March 11-15.

Youth delegates from 37 cities across the nation convened this week at the 2017 Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C. In sessions with their peers and other youth allies, the delegates critically analyzed issues in their communities and developed strategies and solutions.

In one of the most engaging sessions, Lobbying and Advocacy: Making the Youth Voice Heard, delegates heard from former congressional staffers as well as current lobbyists and consultants about the importance of the youth voice in all levels of government and their power to make a difference on both a small and large scale.

As part of this session, each youth council represented at the conference identified a problem in their city, formulated a solution, and developed a plan to lobby local, state and federal leaders for change. They then encapsulated the problem, its solution and convincing messaging into a concise elevator pitch. Here are five issues discussed at the session:

Lack of youth involvement in local government: Delegates from Olathe, Kansas, and Fayetteville, North Carolina, identified the potential benefits of increased youth participation in local government, and each youth council took a different approach to this issue. Delegates from Olathe suggested creating a teen council to listen to other youth problems and presenting those problems to city councilmembers. Delegates from Fayetteville created a plan to lower the local voting age to 16 to increase voter turnout and local knowledge. Their strong argument: “Sixteen-year-olds pay taxes if they have jobs – and there should not be taxation without representation!”

Possible loss of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding: Delegates from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, identified the importance of CDBG funds in their city that help subsidize many youth programs. One delegate from Milwaukee noted that “these programs affect the longevity and success of youth in our city.”

Plastic pollution in cities: Delegates from Hillsboro, Oregon, described their plan to ban plastic bags in their city as “a way to save the community and contribute to a global movement.” They highlighted the fact that more than 50 percent of plastic bags are used just once and then thrown away.

Mental illness awareness and resources: Delegates from the cities of Brighton and Loveland in Colorado addressed the lack of mental illness awareness and resources in their schools and communities. Both youth councils emphasized reducing teen suicide rates and teaming up with mental health organizations to implement more programs.

Dangers of invasive species: Delegates from Buckeye, Arizona, shared a unique problem in their community: the damage created by an invasive plant, the salt cedar tree. One salt cedar tree can use up to 300 gallons of water per day, meaning that 200,000 households could use the water currently being used by salt cedar trees. Their solution? Release the Salt Cedar Creek Beetle to combat the invasive species. The delegates highlighted the documented success of this strategy, which is already underway in some areas of Texas.

Feedback from the session’s panelists allowed the youth to expand on their ideas and explore ways to make their arguments more powerful. The delegates also learned about the importance of highlighting reliable data and sharing examples of best practices in similar towns and cities.

Youth delegates are sure to take their invaluable experiences at the Congressional City Conference back to their youth councils at home to spark effective change in their communities. Their enduring engagement and involvement in all of the sessions proved their dedication to the betterment of their communities.

About the author: Alessia Riccio is the 2016-2017 National League of Cities Menino Fellow in the partnership between Boston University’s Initiative on Cities and NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

When Cities and States Clash, Women and Families Suffer

Despite ongoing efforts to create more inclusive, gender-equal workplaces, many states currently prevent cities from passing laws mandating employers provide paid leave.

Tens of thousands attended the Women’s March on January 21, 2017 in Washington, D.C., to advocate for legislation and policies regarding women’s rights and a number of other human rights issues, such as gender equality in the workplace. (Wikimedia Commons)

This post was co-authored by Christiana McFarland and Brooks Rainwater.

Today, people around the globe are donning red, attending marches, and participating in walkouts in solidarity for International Women’s Day and “A Day Without a Woman.” With the social campaign #BeBoldForChange, organizers are calling on everyone to forge more inclusive, gender-equal workplaces. One way that cities are doing just that is through local paid leave policies.

The only problem? These efforts are being thwarted in nearly half the country. A new report from National League of Cities, City Rights in an Era of Preemption: A State-by-State Analysis, points to a troubling trend counteracting these local efforts – 19 states currently prevent cities from passing laws mandating employers provide paid leave. These limitations, also known as paid leave preemption laws, leave a great deal of families – and especially, women – with few options to care for themselves, a new child, or aging parents.

This trend is hardened by the fact that the federal government does not mandate paid family and medical leave at the national level. While a 1993 law, the Family Medical Leave Act, provides new parents with a guaranteed 12 weeks off after the birth of a child, it provides no remuneration, and is therefore only an option for those who can afford unpaid time off.

In the global context, most countries provide paid family and medical leave, including all countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), making the United States an extreme outlier.

As inequality rises and opportunities for those at the bottom of the income spectrum contract, support is needed to lift up rather than hold down our fellow Americans. This fact, tied together with the lack of national, state and private sector action to provide paid leave has spurred momentum forward in many cities to pass such laws.

What does paid leave encompass?

Paid leave, which includes both sick and family and medical leave, is a growing area of action for a number of cities. Paid sick leave laws specifically refer to the federal, state or local government mandating that employers provide sick time for employees that is paid either directly by the employer or through a social welfare benefit administered by the government.

Paid family and medical leave refers to the government providing monetary support to people caring for newborn children or aging parents, or addressing serious health issues. These types of laws typically provide anywhere from a percentage of full pay to 100 percent of a worker’s salary for set periods of time ranging from a few weeks to a year or more.

Which states prevent local action on paid leave?

In just the past couple of years, more than 20 municipalities have passed paid sick leave laws. From Tampa to Seattle to Washington, D.C., cities are working to empower local residents through guaranteed paid leave, which in turn creates better, healthier workforces.

However, this activity at the local level has prompted many state legislatures to stymy city control on the issue of paid leave, often on the grounds of limiting the “patchwork of regulations” for businesses operating throughout the state. But, it should be reiterated that this “patchwork” only exists, because states and the federal government have not taken action. Cities will always lead, but these preemptive measures mean that cities cannot tailor laws to meet local needs and values, and in the case of paid leave, serve to undermine the overall health and well-being of employees and limit economic growth.

(NLC)

New methods of preemption are also beginning to crop up. For example, in the absence of a state law that explicitly prohibits local paid sick leave, Arizona has threatened to withhold revenues from the city of Tempe in order to deter the possible adoption of paid sick leave measures.

Although many cities and their states have antagonistic relationships in the realm of paid leave, some offer solid examples for how to work together to support outcomes for women, families and businesses. Statewide paid leave laws that allow cities to provide levels of support for employees that exceed the state’s minimum requirements is a best practice to both minimize the patchwork of regulations and maintain local control. For example, San Diego and San Francisco are among several California cities that have passed paid sick leave laws that go above and beyond state minimums.

When it comes to social policy, aggressive state action has limited the ability of city leaders to expand rights and provide opportunities to community members. Preemption that prevents cities from expanding rights, building stronger economies and promoting innovation can be counterproductive and even dangerous for cities, states and the country.

Our call for local control is a call to give cities the ability to adapt and to have the tools they need to create an inclusive society that works for everyone. As we all celebrate International Women’s Day, let’s continue to support and lift up the success of our cities on paid leave and fight back against states that would diminish the voice of people in cities. Paid leave ultimately should be a right not a choice. It is in our nation’s cities where our country’s leaders will continue to lead the way in moving the country forward—helping us all to create a more inclusive world.

About the authors:

Christiana K. McFarland is NLC’s Research Director. Follow Christy on Twitter at @ckmcfarland.

 

 

Brooks Rainwater is Senior Executive and Director of the Center for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities. Follow Brooks on Twitter @BrooksRainwater.

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.

Cities Should Be the Focus of Federalism

Cities accelerate the spread of ideas and drive our national economy – but they are constrained in their ability to realize their full potential for their residents and for the nation.

(NLC)

(NLC)

In the first installment of this series, we looked at the basics of federalism and why it matters to cities. Part two focused on how affordable housing assistance has changed with the interpretation of federalism, and what that means for cities today, while part three examined federalism in the context of the American educational system. Part four focused on how local-federal partnerships support innovation and entrepreneurship, and today’s installment calls for more city-focused federalism.

Why should federalism focus on cities?

In 1932, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandéis famously wrote, “It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous State may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” This adage can be applied equally well to cities, which offer many advantages over federal and state governments.

Because of their limited geographies dense with human potential, cities accelerate the spread of ideas. They have become the drivers of our national economy. We can attribute this success to cities’ comparatively minimal bureaucracy, which allows them to respond quickly to changing technology and, in many instances, to act more pragmatically.

At the same time cities are innovating, they are providing a breadth of essential services to residents. Historian Kenneth Jackson once wrote, “Local governments in the United States have more responsibilities than municipal jurisdictions in other nations, and thus, they must themselves provide and pay for schools, policemen, fire protection, road repairs, sanitation and social services.”

Despite their role in our country, cities are faced with a lack of constitutional power. The federal government, over the last one hundred years, has embraced policies that have been notably anti-urban, including car subsidies, mortgage subsidies, substandard public housing, residential segregation and suburban land use laws. Coupled with the stifling attitude most state governments have towards localities, cities are constrained in their ability to realize their full potential for their residents and for the nation. This is why we need city-focused federalism.

What does city-focused federalism look like?

More resources. In today’s fiscal federalism – a carrot-and-stick approach to governing – money is everything. While cities generate most of their revenues from their own sources, intergovernmental aid is essential for jump-starting innovative projects and supporting necessary programs. Former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley once said, “Why should a city be mandated to do something by the federal government or state government without [being given] the money to do it?” City-focused federalism recognizes that cities need reliable funding from federal and state partners and not unfunded mandates.

Local decision-making. Cities should not have to wait on Congress to act in order to maintain highways, build transit systems, or spur new housing. Cities know which projects are critical, and will be responsible for maintaining them for years to come. City-focused federalism puts local governments in a position to set priorities and lead implementation. Federal funding formulas should reflect city priorities, or at least allow for flexibility at the local level. Passing more funding through to cities with fewer stipulations from the federal government will help catalyze this process.

Less preemption. Many state legislatures, which disproportionately represent non-urban constituents, have increased preemption of local authority on a number of issues. For example, local control over fiscal mechanisms is fundamentally important. Cities that have access to multiple revenue streams (sales, property and income) can tailor them to their local economies and preferences. However, the vast majority only have access to one or two streams of revenue. Reversing preemption and taxing limitations will only spur more innovation in cities. Moreover, granting home rule to more local governments will further enshrine the place of cities in the federal system.

A seat at the table. A strong federalist system relies on cooperation, not conflict, among the levels of government. The Obama administration set a positive precedent by placing former mayors in positions of influence and including local governments in important discussions, increasing the chances of local innovations becoming national policies. In the new administration, the voice of local governments deserves to be heard and respected. Furthermore, the creation of a national urban policy – something our country has long lacked – would go leaps and bounds towards affirming the importance of cities in America.

How do we achieve these goals?

Real change may not come without substantial shifts in politics and policy. More rights and protections for cities may need to come from a change not only in attitudes but in legislation. This is a daunting task. But the changes that city leaders create at the local level are often mirrored at the state and federal level – and by making their voices heard in statehouses and on Capitol Hill, local leaders can help change the nature of federalism in America.

To learn more about NLC’s efforts to promote more city-focused federalism – and make your voice heard at the federal level – join us at the Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C., March 11-15.

Trevor Langan 125x150About the author: Trevor Langan is the Research Associate for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities.

Fighting for Local Government Priorities on Capitol Hill

NLC is laying the groundwork for Capitol Hill Advocacy Day, which takes place on March 15 during NLC’s Congressional City Conference. More than 250 meetings have been arranged for local officials to speak with their Congressional representatives about city priorities.

With a new president and Congress, now is the time to raise the voice of cities and make their priorities heard. (Getty Images)

With a new president and Congress, now is the time to raise the voice of cities and make their priorities heard. (Getty Images)

This post was co-authored by Michael Wallace and Ashley Smith.

Thousands of local officials will soon arrive in Washington, D.C. for NLC’s 2017 Congressional City Conference. Among the members of Congress scheduled to meet with conference attendees are seven new senators, 55 new representatives, and 91 former local elected officials. To lay the groundwork for successful meetings, NLC lobbyists have met in advance with these offices, alongside top leadership, over the last two months.

From January 3, when the new Congress was gaveled into being, to now, NLC lobbyists have taken 135 Congressional meetings with 120 members of Congress and their staff; and 11 meetings with Congressional committee staff from nine House and Senate committees. Among outcomes related to specific policy issues, these meetings served to educate Congressional offices on cities’ bipartisan priorities and reinforce NLC as the voice of America’s cities on Capitol Hill.

The Congressional City Conference takes place March 11-15. While in Washington for the conference, you’ll learn from political and issue experts on how federal action may impact your city in the months and years ahead, and have the opportunity to speak up for cities during meetings with your Congressional delegation.

Start your conference experience by attending NLC’s Federal Advocacy Committee meetings on Sunday, March 12 to learn more about our policy development process and how the committees are leading NLC’s advocacy efforts. Federal Advocacy Committee meetings are not just for committee members – they are open to every local official registered to attend the conference. And during workshops on March 13 and 14, you’ll hear about the most pressing topics facing cities and learn about federal plans and proposals. Topics include:

  • Infrastructure plans and funding
  • Possible changes to the Affordable Care Act and impacts to cities
  • New technologies and strategies for your police force
  • Considerations when pursuing public private partnerships
  • How to effectively advocate for your city in Washington

During the general sessions, you’ll hear from political analyst and former White House Director of Communications Nicolle Wallace and bestselling author J.D. Vance. Finally, on March 15, join city leaders from across the country as we advocate for city priorities during NLC’s Capitol Hill Advocacy Day. Register today to join us and learn more about the conference here.

We look forward to seeing you and city leaders from around the country in our nation’s capital!

You can get to know more about NLC’s advocacy team of lobbyists and grassroots professionals through the “Meet Your City Advocate” blog series and by attending one of NLC’s seven Federal Advocacy Committee meetings at the conference.

About the authors:

mike_wallace_125x150Michael Wallace is the Interim Director of Federal Advocacy at the National League of Cities. Follow him on Twitter @MikeWallaceII.

 

Ashley Smith is the Senior Associate for Grassroots Advocacy at the National League of Cities. Follow Ashley @AshleyN_Smith.

When It Comes to Innovation, Partnerships Are Key

NLC’s Brooks Rainwater examines federalism in the context of innovation and explains why the Small Business Administration is of critical importance to cities.

(NLC)

(NLC)

In the first installment of this series, we looked at the basics of federalism and why it matters to cities. Part two focused on how affordable housing assistance has changed with the interpretation of federalism, and what that means for cities today, while part three examined federalism in the context of the American educational system. Today we’ll look at how local-federal partnerships support innovation and entrepreneurship.

Cities are laboratories for innovation. It’s no secret that it is in cities where local leaders are continuously seeking out innovative solutions for tough problems. We have seen this exhibited particularly well in the small business and startup space. Local leaders are accelerating the unique ideas that make all cities thrive through the development of innovation districts, business incubators and shared working spaces.

The entrepreneurial ecosystems that have sprung up across the country enable cities to leverage existing business and draw in new companies that help foster creativity and technological breakthroughs in our nation’s urban places.

This type of innovation is exhibited in not only the largest metropolitan regions of the country, but also in places like Chattanooga, Tennnessee; Coralville, Iowa; and Kansas City, Missouri. Whether one examines the industry-leading app development in Coralville or the way Chattanooga and Kansas City are leveraging the power of gigabit speed internet as a backbone, these cities show that specialization and nurturing creative home-grown ecosystems works quite well.

In our own recent work on Chattanooga’s innovation district, we found that one of the critical factors for success was clear goals and close coordination between the city, the business community, the university, and the nonprofit sector in order to catalyze success and develop a critical path forward. Utilizing and reimagining the downtown of the city was just one key factor here, with another being the mayoral leadership of Andy Berke tied together with long-standing civic engagement in the community.

The fact that top-selling education apps are coming out of Coralville, Iowa, is not an accident – it took deliberate planning and partnerships. This community is just outside the area referred to as the creative corridor and is thus able to leverage the talent and resources needed to grow. In Kansas City, the Kansas City Startup Village is a great example of an entrepreneurial community that supports the city’s startup ecosystem. With the city’s rollout of Google Fiber tied together with its smart city initiative, there are a number of critical components in place. Thanks to the leadership of Mayor Sly James on these issues and many more, the city is doing the right things to promote entrepreneurialism and grow startup businesses.

This innovation that we observe in cities has a great deal to do with local partnerships. We also need strong partnerships at the state and federal level because they play such an important role in helping innovation and economic development thrive. One key example of this is found in the innovative companies in every corner of the country that are part of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Growth Accelerator Fund Competition, which helps grow amazing companies nationwide.

History of Federal Funding for Small Businesses

The Small Business Administration (SBA) was established in 1953 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower as an independent agency with the signing of the Small Business Act. Since then, the agency has been responsible for delivering millions of loans, contracts, counseling sessions and other forms of direct assistance to small businesses. Throughout its history, the SBA has at times been somewhat of a pawn in political chess, with levels of support waxing and waning depending on the administration in power.

Most recently, Linda McMahon, co-founder of World Wrestling Entertainment, was confirmed as the SBA administrator. During her Senate confirmation hearing, Administrator McMahon walked back statements regarding folding the SBA into the Commerce Department, saying her priority in the first few months would be disaster relief programs. With the strong role the SBA plays in supporting entrepreneurialism in cities, the hope is that ongoing partnerships can be maintained and grown in the coming years.

Why the SBA Matters to Cities

The SBA matters to cities for a multitude of reasons. Connecting small businesses with the SBA and SBA-approved lenders is a critical role of many local economic development officials. The SBA has recently been supportive of entrepreneurs in cities by encouraging cities to sign on to Startup in a Day, an effort built in partnership between the SBA and the National League of Cities (NLC) to streamline city permitting and licensing procedures.

The SBA also serves a rebuilding role in cities. It has frequently been called on to revitalize cities struck by riots and unrest, from the Long, Hot Summer of 1967 to Los Angeles in 1992 and Baltimore in 2015. While the amount of support the SBA provides to cities is critical for a number of reasons, at the end of the day the economy of the country is reliant on cities. This is why the federal relationship is so important. The SBA has a loan portfolio of $124 billion, and these dollars are directly related to the nation’s growth. The SBA provides important counseling, educational and technical assistance to cities as well.

A Path Forward for Startups & Innovation in Cities

In thinking about a path forward for startups and growing innovation in cities, it is necessary to reiterate the importance of maintaining and strengthening the federal relationship. If instead of growing this support decisions are made to diminish it, the decreased federal funding available to small businesses will ultimately hurt cities and, therefore, national economic growth.

It is necessary to create a strong plan focused on increasing entrepreneurialism in our country. Statistics show entrepreneurialism is nearing a 40-year low and the pace of IPOs has slowed. However, the nation is in a good position to turn that around – according to a new survey from JPMorgan, the leaders of small- and medium-sized businesses are saying they are more enthusiastic about the U.S. economy in 2017. That survey found that 68 percent of respondents were encouraged about the outlook for local economic conditions, representing an 18-point increase from 2016.

Let’s leverage that potential for growth with startups and others in the entrepreneurial community. Innovation will continue to percolate from the ground up – but in order to truly grow this opportunity, cities need a partner in the White House and in statehouses nationwide to unleash economic dynamism and continue innovating.

To learn more about what NLC is doing in this policy arena – and make your voice heard at the federal level – join us at the Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C., March 11-15.

About the author: Brooks Rainwater is Senior Executive and Director of the Center for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities. Follow Brooks on Twitter @BrooksRainwater.

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.

 

Forecasting the Role of Cities in Education

Both cities and the federal government want great schools because they help create a strong workforce, boosting the economy at a local and national level – but the legal and fiscal powers of both levels of government are limited, and the policies of the new administration will likely complicate this dynamic even more.

(NLC)

(NLC)

In the first installment of this series, we looked at the basics of federalism and why it matters to cities. Part two of the series focused on how one policy – affordable housing assistance – has changed with the interpretation of federalism, and what that means for cities today. In this post, we examine federalism in the context of the American educational system.

The expectation that government should provide accessible, quality education for all has become deeply engrained in the American psyche. This responsibility, however, falls squarely on the shoulders of local governments. Quality education is most often a local responsibility, increasingly paid for at the state level, and managed by policies set at the national level. More specifically, states and local school districts have always made the critical decisions about education, from who should teach to what should be taught. The role of the federal government has been more limited; education policy has long flowed from the bottom up, with the federal government often expanding innovative local policies nationally. For these reasons, education presents an interesting look at federalism.

History of National Education Policy

While the role of the federal government in education has been muted, its level of involvement has steadily increased over the last sixty years. Federal interest in schools was triggered by the launch of the Sputnik satellite by the Soviet Union in 1957 and the fear that American education was falling behind on a global scale. In 1965, President Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, delivering resources to poor urban and rural schools. Later in the 1960s and into the 1970s, the federal government worked to combat de facto segregation in public schools. The Department of Education became its own cabinet-level department in the Carter administration, only to see its budget severely reduced during Reagan’s tenure.

Similar to other policies, education policy followed the trend of heightened national importance during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, with the focus shifting back to the states during the Reagan administration. However, these federal trends coupled with changes at the state level to constrain public school budgets. Funding for education, which has typically been tied to property tax revenues, started to come under threat in 1978 when California was the first state to pass a limit on local tax collection. In 1979, state spending overtook local spending as the largest source of education funding, in effect limiting local autonomy.

Today, the federal government contributes between 8 and 10 percent of the public education budget. This amounts to $55 billion annually as of FY 2013, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Much of this funding is discretionary, which means that Congress sets the amount annually through the appropriations process.

The most recent era of federalism, while hard to define, has largely focused on accountability and performance – doing more with less money. No policy area exemplifies this better than education, and no particular legislation better than the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act. Enacted at the outset of the George W. Bush administration, NCLB was built on the premise that standards should be equalized across states so that a school’s performance could be accurately measured. These priorities continued during the Obama administration with the Race to the Top program, which rewarded states that adopted common standards and broadened performance metrics.

In the Trump administration, the Department of Education will be led by Betsy DeVos. Secretary DeVos has been an advocate for school choice, meaning the privatization of education through school voucher programs and the expansion of charter schools. It is likely she will bring her views on education reform to the Department.

Because of recent reforms to federal education funding, local governments and school districts are under pressure to ensure schools are performing adequately or they risk losing critical funding to privatization. If Vice President Mike Pence’s tenure as Indiana governor is any indication, the Administration will likely move to expand charters and voucher programs. When the vice president was governor, Indiana shifted millions of dollars shifted away from public schools, and more children from middle-income families received vouchers to attend private schools.

Steps Cities Can Take Moving Forward

While education policy is administered at the local level, city governments often do not have direct oversight of their public schools. In some municipalities, school boards are jointly appointed by the mayor, city councilors, and/or the governor. In contrast, many school districts are independent special-purpose governments with leadership that is elected rather than appointed by city officials. In both of these scenarios, the policies of the new administration will likely add to the complexity of local-federal relationships in the education arena even more.

However, whether or not cities are directly responsible for their public schools, local governments can still lead (or expand) educational programs. Many cities offer programs during out-of-school times, either in the evenings or during the summer. These programs enrich the education experience, prepare students for specific careers, or help close the racial achievement gap.

Cities can also use data to improve their school systems. In the City of Nashville, for example, a partnership between Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) and the city-funded afterschool program for middle school youth, the Nashville After Zone Alliance (NAZA), has significantly improved students’ reading ability in just three months. This is exactly the type of partnership and focus students need, especially if they are struggling or falling behind. In another example of partnerships, NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families teamed-up with MomsRising and School Readiness Consulting to produce Strong Start for Strong Cities, an early learning resource guide for mayors, councilmembers and other municipal leaders.

Finally, local elected officials can exercise leadership to support youth education beginning with pre-school, expand alternatives for students who struggle in traditional educational settings, increase high school graduation rates, and promote college access and completion.

To learn more about what NLC is doing in this policy arena – and make your voice heard at the federal level – join us at the Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C., March 11-15.

Trevor Langan 125x150About the author: Trevor Langan is the Research Associate for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities.

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.