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.

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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.

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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.

 

Reminding Washington That Cities Lead

Leading up to the 2017 Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C., city representatives held 42 meetings this week with federal officials, working to build local-federal partnerships and tell Congress why city priorities will help to move America forward.

(NLC)

(clockwise from top middle) White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs Deputy Director Billy Kirkland addresses state league leaders; Maryland Municipal League President and Edmonston, Maryland, Mayor Tracy Gant and Maryland Municipal League Executive Director Scott Hancock meet with Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD); New York State Conference of Mayors President and White Plains, New York, Mayor Tom Roach and New York State Conference of Mayors Executive Director Peter Baynes meet with Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY); Mississippi Municipal League President and Magee, Mississippi, Mayor Jimmy Clyde and Mississippi Municipal League Executive Director Shari Veazey meet with Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS); State municipal league leaders descend on Capitol Hill for day of action. (NLC)

This post was co-authored by Carolyn Berndt, Angelina Panettieri and Ashley Smith.

State Municipal Leagues Join NLC to Advocate for Cities on Capitol Hill

This week, more than 35 executive directors and local leaders from 20 state municipal leagues across the country traveled to Washington, D.C. for an inaugural fly-in to advocate for city priorities on Capitol Hill and with the Trump Administration. At meetings and a briefing on Capitol Hill, state municipal league partners and NLC staff advocated for our top legislative priorities, including the tax exemption for municipal bonds, reinvestment in municipal infrastructure and e-fairness. Together we ensured that federal decision-makers heard loud and clear that local leaders are ready to build local-federal partnerships that will help to move America forward.

The fly-in began on Tuesday with a briefing hosted by NLC’s Federal Advocacy staff, which provided state municipal league executive directors and local leaders with an update on the new political dynamics in Washington, D.C., as well as substantive updates on NLC’s 2017 federal legislative priorities. NLC President Matt Zone, council member, Cleveland, and NLC Executive Director/CEO Clarence Anthony welcomed fly-in attendees to NLC’s office and spoke about the importance of advocating for cities during this time of change in Washington. In addition, Billy Kirkland, the newly appointed Deputy Director for the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, addressed the state municipal league executive directors and local leaders and opened the door to future collaboration between the administration and cities.

On Wednesday, the state league leaders descended on Capitol Hill for a day of action to advocate for city priorities, including investments in municipal infrastructure and protecting municipal bonds, as well as introducing cities to newly elected members of Congress. In their time on the Hill, they met with more than 45 congressional offices across 15 states. Additionally, state league leaders and NLC staff met with staff directors of two key House committees to discuss issues important to cities – brownfields reauthorization and unfunded mandates – and with the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Wireless Bureau to urge the FCC to avoid a one-size-fits-all mandate to preempt local authority on small cell wireless facility siting.

The day of action also included a briefing on Capitol Hill for senators, members of Congress and their staffs. Rep. Drew Ferguson (GA-3), a former mayor of West Point, Georgia, spoke at the briefing about the need for stronger federal-local partnerships.

Local Leaders Call on Congress to be a Partner to Cities

This Thursday, NLC hosted a Congressional briefing, “City Hall 101: The Role of Cities in Moving America Forward,” to urge members of Congress and staff to consider the best ways to partner with cities to solve some of the most pressing challenges of our time. With a focus on the economy, infrastructure and public safety, NLC President and Cleveland, Ohio, Councilmember Matt Zone opened the briefing by calling on Congress to support local efforts to combat public health crises like the opioid epidemic, to give city leaders a voice in how federal infrastructure dollars are invested, and to protect the tax-exemption for municipal bonds that helps cities invest in infrastructure to grow their local and the national economy.

“Cities are the builders of America’s infrastructure. We are the creators of economic opportunity for our residents. And we are leaders in finding creative solutions to the challenges facing our communities and our nation,” said Zone.

Rep. Drew Ferguson (R-GA), a former mayor of West Point, Georgia, and a newly-elected Congressman, spoke about his perspective of coming to Washington, D.C. after serving at the local level and the need for stronger federal-local partnerships. He spoke eloquently about the role of economic development and education in helping to move people out of poverty and into the middle class. In closing, Ferguson said, “The health of the nation can be measured by the health of our cities.”

Christy McFarland, NLC Research Director, discussed two recent NLC reports, City Fiscal Conditions and Paying for Local Infrastructure in a New Era of Federalism, which served as background on the health of city budgets, including revenue and expenditures, and the fiscal capacity of cities to be a partner with federal government. “City finances are stable. Cities are in a positive trajectory to growth, but city finances are vulnerable to economic swings. And the authority of local governments to raise revenue is often constrained,” McFarland said.

Council Member Zone was joined by Mayor C. Kim Bracey, York, Pennsylvania, and First Vice President of the Pennsylvania Municipal League, and Commissioner Gil Ziffer, Tallahassee, Flaorida, and First Vice President of the Florida League of Cities, to share experiences from their cities on some of the challenges they are facing at the local level.

Mayor Bracey and Commissioner Ziffer talked about the impact that homelessness has on their communities. In Tallahassee, the city utilized a public-private partnership to build a homeless shelter that provides other wrap around services including medical assistance, mental health services, and job retraining that has become a model for other cities in Florida.

Although York is a city of 43,000 and only 5.2 square miles, Mayor Bracey shared the city experiences the same kind of societal issues, good and bad, that larger cities face. While crime is going down and homeownership is up, homelessness, particularly among children, is a big challenge for the city. Programs like the Community Development Block Grant help the city leverage other public and private sector dollars to address the issues.

As the conversation turned to the topic of infrastructure, Councilmember Zone said that cities need a diverse array of financing options in order to improve our nation’s transportation and water infrastructure. While private sector financing is critical for cities in terms of increasing investments, Councilmember Zone said public-private partnerships might work for large projects, but it will not work for the types of Main Street projects that are needed in smaller communities nationwide.

(NLC)

(NLC)

Florida Local Leaders Travel to D.C. to Advocate for Federal Issues Impacting Cities

City officials from Florida traveled to Washington, D.C. this week to meet with members of Congress and advocate for key federal issues that affect municipalities.

The Florida League of Cities, led by FLC First Vice President Commissioner Gil Ziffer, Tallahassee and FAST Chair Mayor Joe Durso, Longwood, brought 28 members of the Federal Action Strike Team (FAST) and three staff members to meet with members of the Florida congressional delegation. The advocates first received a briefing from NLC’s Federal Advocacy team, then traveled to Capitol Hill. During their meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday, FLC FAST members advocated for the tax exemption for municipal bonds, federal infrastructure funding, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), the FEMA Public Assistance Program, and e-fairness legislation.

(NLC)

The Florida League of Cities FAST Strike Team visited Washington, D.C. this week to advocate for city priorities and attend a number of key meetings. (NLC)

State League Directors and City Leaders Talk Brownfields, Unfunded Mandates with Committees

During NLC’s State Municipal League Directors and Presidents Fly-In this week, local leaders met with staff directors of several House committees to discuss issues important to cities: brownfields reauthorization and unfunded mandates.

NLC President Matt Zone, councilmember, Cleveland, Mayor Harry Brown, Stephens, Arkansas, and President of the Arkansas Municipal League, Town Administrator Mel Kleckner, Brookline, Massachusetts, and President of the Massachusetts Municipal League, along with Arkansas and Massachusetts state municipal league representatives discussed with the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment the need to reauthorize the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Brownfields program. The committee, which shares jurisdiction over brownfields with the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is currently drafting legislation and will likely hold a hearing later this spring. NLC members voiced their support for addressing the local liability concerns and improving the flexibility of the program in the reauthorization bill.

Additionally, President Zone, Mayor Brown, Ken Wasson, Director of Operations for the Arkansas Municipal League, and Sam Mamet, Executive Director of the Colorado Municipal League, met with the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Intergovernmental Affairs Subcommittee to discuss how unfunded mandates place a burden on local governments, particularly small towns with limited financial resources. NLC leaders also discussed with committee staff how to ensure that the local voice is heard throughout the rulemaking process. Recently, NLC compiled feedback from local elected officials on unfunded mandates and regulatory reform proposals at the request of the committee. The committee will likely hold a hearing on these issues later this spring, and is seeking ongoing feedback from NLC and cities on how to reduce the burden on local governments.

State League Advocates Urge FCC to Respect Local Authority

In a meeting with the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Wireless Bureau, advocates from the Georgia Municipal Association, Massachusetts Municipal Association, and League of Minnesota Cities urged the FCC to avoid a one-size-fits-all mandate to preempt local authority on small cell wireless facility siting. The meeting was held in response to a public notice published by the FCC in December that requested feedback on the current state of small cell deployment in cities.

The state municipal league advocates discussed the widely varying challenges faced by cities throughout the nation in working to improve wireless coverage for city residents, while preserving their residents’ rights of way, safety, and city planning priorities. They also shared their cities’ specific challenges, particularly the proliferation of excess or abandoned pole infrastructure in the rights of way, challenges in balancing repeated requests to site wireless infrastructure in densely populated cities, while neighboring rural towns lack service, and the difficulties for local planning officials to acquire adequate staff support for processing of unpredictable influxes of siting applications. The advocates also provided information about the great variation between their states’ respective laws on city authority in wireless siting.

About the authors:

Carolyn Berndt is the Program Director for Infrastructure and Sustainability on the NLC Federal Advocacy team. She leads NLC’s advocacy, regulatory, and policy efforts on energy and environmental issues, including water infrastructure and financing, air and water quality, climate change, and energy efficiency. Follow Carolyn on Twitter at @BerndtCarolyn.

Angelina Panettieri is the Principal Associate for Technology and Communication at the National League of Cities. Follower her on twitter @AngelinainDC.

 

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

Cities Are Part of the Prescription to Fix America’s Affordable Housing Crisis

Dr. Ben Carson will likely take over the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and its budget. HUD provides significant resources to cities and their residents – so when it comes to affordable housing assistance, what does that mean for cities?

(NLC)

(NLC)

This article was made possible with the research support of American University Department of Public Administration and Policy graduate students.

In the first installment of this series, we looked at the basics of federalism and why it matters for cities. In this post, we’ll look at how one policy – affordable housing assistance – has changed with the interpretation of federalism, and what that means for cities today.

An Affordable Housing Crisis

There is an unprecedented demand for rental housing, among all income levels. With rental markets tight, low- and moderate-income renters are having a difficult time finding housing. In America’s central cities, which house the majority of low-income renters, the problem is exacerbated by an overall decline in public housing developments and a steady increase in transferable vouchers. These cities are seeing an increase in the number of severely distressed renters and a decrease in the affordable housing supply.

While the federal government takes an active role in the housing space, local governments face tough decisions daily. The negative effects of homelessness and poor housing have real effects on resident well-being. And because property values are usually tied to revenues, city budgets are strongly affected by changes in the real estate market. The federal government works to support housing in all of these areas, but the tools available sometimes reflect past problems.

With his likely confirmation, Dr. Ben Carson will take over the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and its budget of over $40 billion (FY17 requested outlays). HUD provides significant resources to cities and their residents, including both rental and homeownership assistance. For this reason and others, housing policy offers an interesting look at the federal-city relationship.

Federal Housing Policy

The nature of federalism over the past 30 years has been defined by an interplay between economic and political realities. As the economy has expanded and contracted, governments at all levels have responded by expanding or cutting spending. Similarly, different administrations have had drastically different viewpoints on the size of government and the degree to which local problems warrant national solutions.

During the 1980s, a changing economy and the Reagan administration combined to drastically change the face of federalism. Increased reliance on block grants, incentivizing third-party partnerships, and limiting unrestricted funding all began during this time. To meet their aggressive fiscal goals, the federal government shifted from place-based to person-based aid. By redirecting the flow of federal assistance to people instead of places, housing vouchers became more portable since they were attached to eligible persons instead of eligible units; however, this shift decreased the amount of funding received by local governments. As a result, although federal aid increased by 78 percent from 1989 to 1994, states captured approximately 89 percent of the increase because states are the principal administrators of intergovernmental aid-to-persons programs.

By decreasing the use of direct federal funds allocated to affordable housing, localities were forced to become more involved in supplying affordable housing. This led to the practice of combining grants such as the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), HOME block grant, and the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC). The Reagan administration’s emphasis on less federal spending and more private market solutions laid the foundation for the relationship of federalism and affordable housing policies that can still be felt by localities today.

In 1998, Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress enacted the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act, which sought to address the issues of deteriorating public housing, concentrations of poverty, and the allocation of subsidized rental assistance to individual households. The law continued the trend of devolving responsibility to lower levels of government by granting public housing authorities greater flexibility and authority.

Today, with the election of Donald Trump as president, the future of the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit has been called into question. The tax credit has subsidized the construction or renovation of a substantial number of multifamily units since its inception in 1986. Funding for new projects funded with LIHTCs have become less attractive as investors anticipate the new administration to reduce corporate tax rates. If the trend holds, this presents a significant worry to cities.

Recommendations

It is likely that the trend toward greater private involvement in affordable housing policy will continue into the future. Members of the new administration, including Dr. Carson, view housing assistance as a government handout that is not necessary to escape poverty. Undoubtedly, local leaders need to be innovative if they want to use yesterday’s tools to address today’s crisis. The following are recommendations for dealing with housing policy in the current federalism context:

Successfully leverage federal aid by drawing from as many programs as possible. Take advantage of the entire package. There are a number of programs and resources available to cities. Each has a different purpose and structure. Working in concert, these funds can be powerful tools for combating a city’s affordable housing crisis from all angles.

Low-cost initiatives like Inclusionary Zones can be successful, but don’t assume that they will work in all situations. There are always going to be new and innovative programs. Make sure these work for your city. When copying a successful model, cities must always evaluate whether administrative structures that have been used elsewhere can be duplicated. When copying a model program that relies on the cooperation of private actors, cities must also assess if there are enough similarities between the extra-governmental environment in the model city and their own.

Make the most of federal programs by making your city attractive to the private sector. Despite the difficulties brought by increased reliance on the private sector, cities can increase the odds of success by making themselves attractive to outside investment. Perhaps the easiest way to do this is to simply market existing opportunities to developers. Even if LIHTCs are distributed through state governments, cities can work to help developers apply for them and make the process to attain them as smooth as possible. Similarly, inclusionary zones with density bonuses are more likely to draw investment than inclusionary zones with punitive fees. The less organic interest there is in development, the more cities must do to encourage it. Unfortunately, there can come a point where no amount of promotion can overcome economic realities, and even the most innovating third-party partnership policies will flounder. It is these situations that highlight the continued need for stable federal aid more than what the market will provide.

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 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

Federalism in Focus

The relationship between the federal and local levels of government has been in the spotlight after just a few short weeks of the new administration. It is clear from public statements, Tweets and an executive order that President Trump intends to shake up political institutions as we’ve come to know them.

(NLC)

(NLC)

In this new series, Federalism in Focus, we’ll unpack the nature of the city-federal relationship today, how federalism is reflected in urban policy, and what an ideal relationship would look like.

What is federalism?

Federalism is the constitutional relationship between state governments and the federal government. Cities have a role in the federal relationship that can be difficult to decipher. Local governments are not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, or even the Federalist Papers, because, for much of early American history, cities – even the largest – tended not to be incorporated. Over the years, cities derived their existence and limited powers from their state governments. Only since the 1930s has there been an active and direct federal-city relationship.

The prevailing interpretation of city authority comes from an 1868 Iowa court case. In it, Judge John Dillon offered a narrow interpretation of a local government’s authority, stating that state legislatures give cities life and can take it away. States, therefore, vary tremendously in their treatment of local governments. Some states offer cities home rule, where the cities have been granted broad authority to create new programs or raise taxes without state approval. However, states have increasingly sought to limit the power of cities through by preempting the authority of cities to regulate particular issues. States also broker the relationship between the federal government and their localities, adding their own preferences to those interactions.

Why is federalism important to cities?

The way in which a president and Congress view the relationship between levels of government is important context for the legislation they produce. From affordable housing to immigration, federal policy toward cities is shaped by the interpretation of the U.S. Constitution and the federal system it enshrines. Before approaching any policy argument, it is essential to know the way power is divided. In the case of so-called sanctuary cities, President Donald Trump’s executive order relies on the power of the purse. This is a coercive view of federalism, where state and local governments comply with federal mandates based on grant funding.

Although the federal government does not provide a significant amount of funding to local governments (only about 5 percent of general municipal revenue), it has other ways of increasing local revenue or reducing local costs. This includes establishing federal tax exemptions that reduce municipal borrowing costs. Federal tax exemptions for local property, sales and income taxes encourage homeownership and consumption of goods and services, thereby increasing municipal revenue from local sales, income and property taxes.

In addition, federal aid reaches municipalities in the form of grants. Federal grants come in two forms: block and categorical. Block grants are allocated according to a predetermined formula that dictates how much money a locality can expect to receive, depending on quantifiable factors like population, housing density or health indicators. Cities that apply for block grants must use funds from a preapproved broad functional area such as community development, but generally have few restrictions on how it is spent. Categorical grants, on the other hand, may be spent on more narrowly defined programs.

How has federalism changed over time?

As political climates shift, the way federalism plays out in America also changes. The 1960s saw a very activist federal government that worked directly with cities to implement social policy. Federal aid to cities was a much larger share of the budget than it is today. During the administrations of presidents Nixon and Reagan, the paradigm shifted. Grants became less specific, preferring block grants over categorical, and funding also shrunk.

Today, federal policy tends to prefer transfers of aid to individuals rather than to governments. Money for cities is therefore limited. This is emphasized in the federalism today, which values accountability through results oriented programs and increased incentives to work across jurisdictions. Moving forward, we can likely expect a Trump administration and Republican Congress to look for ways to leverage private investment in cities, rather than direct federal dollars. In the current landscape, we can also expect differences between levels of government to become highly politicized to the point of brinksmanship.

In the rest of this series, we’ll look at what specific federal policies can tell us about the city-federal relationship. To find out more – and make your voice heard at the federal level – come to NLC’s Congressional City Conference!

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 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

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