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 Can Lead National Effort to Get More Young People Working Again

Here are three specific areas in which cities and their partners can continue to demonstrate effective practices, adopt supportive policies, and determine what’s needed to grow initiatives that benefit more youth.

(Getty Images)

Working constitutes a critically needed developmental experience, puts money in the pockets of youth and their families to spend locally, and builds social capital that pays off over the long term. (Getty Images)

“A country for all, and all working when able.” If more city leaders were to adopt this vision – along with those of us providing support and assistance at the national level – we could continue to build effective local stair-step responses to a nagging national dilemma: nearly six million youth and young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 remain out of school and out of work, and less than 50 percent of youth work each summer.

As we enter into a new era of national politics, it’s wise to recall that the federal government has a critical role in assuring high quality and fairness nationwide in areas such as housing, health care, infrastructure and the environment, under an umbrella characterized by equal justice, equal opportunity, and improved outcomes for lagging groups. And when it comes to scaling what’s effective or signaling what’s important, the federal government has no peer. Yet the intensity of a presidential campaign and transition taking place in a 24-hour news cycle has a distorting effect worth noting that, too often, obliterates individuals’ sense of agency and conveys instead that “it all comes down to what happens in Washington, D.C.”

In fact, in policy areas essential to getting more young people working, cities and their partners can continue to demonstrate effective practices, adopt supportive policies, and determine what’s needed to grow initiatives to benefit still more youth – with more long-term impact. For instance, three areas to consider:

  • Reengagement of Out-of-School Youth: Over the past several years, mayors and other city leaders across the country have jumped at the opportunity to institute structured approaches to help young people finish school so they can reach the baseline qualification needed just to enter the labor market. Those same leaders also witness the persistently high cost of school dropout and pushout along dimensions ranging from public budgets to neighborhood efficacy. With too many young people still not finishing high school, and concentration of that effect in people of color and low-income communities, cities and towns have plenty of reasons to advocate for and support comprehensive reengagement initiatives. Even as the past year has seen an uptick in federal attention to reengagement, local energy and funds will continue to drive the spread of reengagement beyond its presence in some 20 cities and two states.
  • Summer Youth Employment: Mayors and the cities they lead stand at the vanguard of efforts to reduce the catastrophic recent trend of declining work experience for youth and young adults. Working constitutes a critically needed developmental experience, puts money in the pockets of youth and their families to spend locally, and builds social capital that pays off over the long term. Efforts to grow high-quality local youth hiring initiatives with the all-in participation of city governments and private sector employers might smartly leverage some federal funds, but ultimately will not depend on federal sources. Showing the benefits of bringing a new focus to summer jobs programs, to ensure that young people who need jobs the most get jobs – alternative school students, for example – must begin at the local level.
  • Juvenile Justice Reform and Jail Reduction: Cities have begun to join county and state partners in efforts to hold youth and young adults accountable in developmentally appropriate ways. In keeping with the goal of getting young people to work, reducing justice system involvement and attendant long-tail records removes a potentially significant barrier to employment. For those who do develop records, Ban the Box and similar strategies playing out mainly at the local level hold promise as tools for effective reintegration.

Meanwhile, as elements of city government, police departments have a particularly prominent role in shifting what happens at the first moments of contact between an officer and a young person, in most cases away from an emphasis on arrest and toward increased supports or formal diversion and restorative justice. Federal support could promote continued peer learning and sharing about police training, diversion, and related practices, yet has not proven essential in instituting reforms to date. Building out a robust continuum of supports and services for youth – with the major exception of mental and behavioral health services supported by Medicaid – remains a largely local and locally-funded task, alongside training and support for police officers.

Demonstrated local success in these three areas (and others) will “trickle up” to the state and federal levels.  The portion of the youth development field focused on older youth has at least six million reasons to continue generating such concrete successes.

Andrew Moore About the author: Andrew Moore is the Director of Youth and Young Adult Connections in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education & Families. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewOMoore.

Mayors Continue to Forge a Path Towards Greater Urban Resilience

Cities across the country are thinking of new ways to use resources and community assets to strengthen their response to numerous challenges presented by the on-going impacts of climate change and sea-level rise.

Last week, Shafaq Choudry was in West Palm Beach, Fl. representing the National League of Cities at Mayor Jeri Muoio’s State of the City Address where more than 800 community and business leaders gathered to hear city achievements in sustainability and a pathway forward on climate resilience. West Palm Beach is one of the ten cities participating in NLC’s Leadership in Community Resilience program, which launched in 2016. (Getty Images)

Last week, Shafaq Choudry was in West Palm Beach, Florida, representing NLC at Mayor Jeri Muoio’s State of the City Address, where more than 800 community and business leaders gathered to hear city achievements in sustainability and a pathway forward on climate resilience. West Palm Beach is one of the ten cities participating in NLC’s Leadership in Community Resilience program, which launched in 2016. (Getty Images)

2017 will be a year where local government leads the charge on urban resilience – and National League of Cities will be there to help. Through our Leadership in Community Resilience program, NLC provides assistance to 10 cities across the country that lack the financial and institutional resources, city-wide and cross-departmental collaboration, and internal capacity to implement their resilience goals. Designed to bolster city-led resilience initiatives and disaster preparedness, the program elevates local governments’ commitment towards a resilient urban future, no matter what is happening at the federal level.

These efforts were on full display in West Palm Beach last week at Mayor Jeri Muoio’s State of the City Address. Mayor Muoio focused on last year’s success as well as future plans to a vibrant crowd of 800 business and community leaders, elected officials, and residents. She highlighted how the city’s commitment to resilience and sustainability was rewarded with a 4-STAR rating – the only city to receive this certification in Florida. The city’s focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, equitable development, data collection, mobility, and increasing economic opportunities has successfully attracted partnerships with the National League of Cities, Knight Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies What Works Cities, Van Allen Institute and Gehl Design Studios.

Mayor Muoio’s sentiments are reflected in cities throughout the country where city officials are working to protect their communities from the recurring impact of climate change on infrastructure, housing, and businesses. The devastating impact of floods, hurricanes, droughts and other extreme weather consistently top news headlines and unlike national politics, weather holds no party affiliation. Building upward from a foundation set over the past eight years, city leaders are pushing disaster resilience initiatives into implementation.

Under former President Obama’s administration, the federal government restored the public’s good faith in disaster response from 33 percent after Hurricane Katrina to 75 percent after Sandy, according to Gallup. Over the course of eight years, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate dealt with 910 disaster declarations, more than any FEMA director in history. FEMA released an action plan in 2013, Crisis Response and Disaster Resilience 2030: Forging Strategic Action in an Age of Uncertainty, to address the gaps in emergency management and opportunities for capacity building. Hurricane Sandy triggered the federal government to shift their approach to disasters from a band-aid response to a holistic resilience planning.

Within three short years, shifts in disaster management and response from a federal to local level has empowered cities to think holistically and act strategically about urban resilience through programs such as the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) and Rebuild by Design. Formerly a partnership with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Rockefeller Foundation partnered with the San Francisco Planning Department in light of a new Trump era, to launch Resilient by Design. Rockefeller Foundation awarded $4.6 million to the Bay Area to combat climate change and sea-level rise with a focus on providing multiple benefits to vulnerable populations.

Many cities outside the 100RC, Rebuild by Design, and Resilient by Design network are thinking of new and creative ways to use resources and community assets to strengthen their response to economic, environmental and social challenges presented by the on-going impacts of climate change and sea-level rise.

Although the cost of climate change is evident in global and financial centers worldwide, NLC has seized the opportunity to capture a compelling story of urban resilience efforts in small to mid-sized cities across the country through the Leadership in Community Resilience program. We are proud to support efforts like Mayor Muoio’s pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and look forward to working with West Palm Beach and the other nine cities in our program throughout the year.

shafaq_choudry_125x150About the author: Shafaq Choudry is a Senior Associate with the Sustainable Cities Institute at the National League of Cities.

Congratulations President Trump – Now Let’s Work Together

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

(Wikimedia Commons)

(Wikimedia Commons)

This is a guest post by Mayor Craig Thurmond.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Improving Community Health in the Garden State

Guest author Deborah Levine shares with mayors and community leaders her city’s blueprint for coordinating better overall health outcomes in their communities.

The city of Trenton holds a weekly farmer’s market at Trinity Cathedral, a safe and accessible location for West Ward residents. (photo: New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute)

The city of Trenton holds a weekly farmer’s market at Trinity Cathedral, a safe and accessible location for West Ward residents. (photo: New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute)

This is a guest post by Deborah Levine.

New Jersey is geographically, economically and ethnically diverse. We are also diverse in terms of health outcomes. Life expectancy, for example, varies widely across the state, ranging from 73 years in Trenton to 87 years in neighboring Princeton Junction. So how do we address the varying health needs of our residents?

At the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute, we help communities bring their resources and residents together to create healthier places for people to live and thrive, and our Mayors Wellness Campaign gives New Jersey mayors tools and strategies to champion healthy and active living. The Mayors Wellness Campaign celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, and serves over 380 mayors and communities across New Jersey.

A new and exciting project of the Mayors Wellness Campaign, supported by a three-year partnership grant with the United Health Foundation, allows us to work intensively with civic leaders and health care providers in three specific communities: Jersey City, Trenton, and Cumberland County. We are helping these communities address pressing health challenges identified in their Community Health Needs Assessments (CHNAs). CHNAs are created by tax-exempt hospitals every three to five years to monitor and improve community health outcomes. Here is our blueprint for mayors and community leaders to coordinate better overall health — a framework we believe can help any community.

Cumberland County offers free health screenings and healthy recipe ideas to residents. (photo: New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute)

Cumberland County offers free health screenings and healthy recipe ideas to residents. (photo: New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute)

The Blueprint

  • Read the CHNAs of hospitals in your community to identify pressing health challenges. As we looked at CHNAs from hospitals across New Jersey, the CHNAs from Jersey City, Trenton, and Cumberland County stood out, as each identified the need for improved health literacy and chronic disease management, and increased access to healthy lifestyle initiatives.
  • Connect with existing community partnerships. Through our work with Jersey City, Trenton, and Cumberland County, we focused on strengthening existing partnerships among public and private entities. In Jersey City we partnered with Jersey City Medical Center and the Jersey City Department of Health and Human Services. In Trenton we partnered with the Trenton Health Team. In Cumberland County we partnered with Inspira Health Network and the Cumberland County Health Department.
  • Identify community goals. Jersey City, Trenton, and Cumberland County are strikingly different from each another, and so are their health goals. Jersey City is the second largest city in New Jersey, and one of its top priorities is increasing access to healthy food. Trenton is the state capital and was once a major manufacturing center. One of its top priorities is to improve health literacy. Cumberland County is a large rural county that boasts sweet New Jersey produce, and is home to a large migrant farmer population. In 2010, Cumberland County was ranked 21st out of 21 New Jersey counties on the Robert Wood Johnson County Health Rankings and Roadmap. This sparked the creation of the Cumberland Salem Gloucester Health and Wellness Alliance, which prioritizes healthy corner stores and workplace wellness programs.
  • Invest in no-to-low cost sustainable programming. Jersey City, Trenton, and Cumberland County were all making strides in addressing health challenges, but with limited staffing and financial resources the sustainability of these programs was questionable. The Quality Institute’s Mayors Wellness Campaign supports educational opportunities for residents of Jersey City, Trenton, and Cumberland County, and funds educational materials in languages unique to each community’s populations. We have also formed a relationship with Aunt Bertha, a social services search engine, to create unique search engines for Jersey City, Trenton, and Cumberland County.
  • Maintain the momentum. Once you have identified the health needs of your community, establish ongoing partnerships with local champions like hospitals, health departments, and volunteers who can identify opportunities for health and wellness activities. Through the Mayors Wellness Campaign, the Quality Institute harnesses partnerships between civic and provider leaders in Jersey City, Trenton, and Cumberland County to drive change at the local level. It is through these partnerships that true change happens.
Jersey City conducts a supermarket education tour. (photo: Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop)

Jersey City conducts a supermarket education tour. (photo: Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop)

Healthy Partnerships

In response to recent CHNAs, Jersey City, Trenton, and Cumberland County are harnessing local partnerships and taking action by investing in their residents at a grassroots level. Jersey City Medical Center and the Jersey City Department of Health and Human Services partner to hold health fairs and educational supermarket tours. The Trenton Health Team partners with more than 50 local organizations including two hospitals, a Federally Qualified Health Center, and the City of Trenton Department of Health and Human Services to improve the health care experiences and outcomes of its residents. Inspira Health Network and the Cumberland County Health Department collaborate through the Cumberland Salem Gloucester Health and Wellness Alliance to improve community health education, physical activity, and chronic disease management among Cumberland County residents.

No two communities have identical health needs – but when municipal leaders and community providers join together and put forth a mighty effort to address the overall health of their residents, real advances become possible.

deborah_levine_125x150About the author: Deborah Levine is the Director of Community Heath at the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute. In this role, Ms. Levine directs the Mayors Wellness Campaign, serving as a resource for mayors who wish to promote health and wellness initiatives in their towns.

Federal Advocacy in 2017: In a Year of Transition, Cities Seek Certainty and Opportunity

NLC is advocating for what may be cities’ most important federal priority in 2017: promoting a positive narrative around cities to the incoming administration and new lawmakers in Congress.

(Getty Images)

The majority of decision-makers inside the Obama Administration understood that the overall success of federal policies requires good local input and leadership. NLC will continue to build a strong relationship between local leaders and the White House during the Trump Administration as well. (Getty Images)

In the nation’s capital, the remarkable success of the Republican Party in the 2016 election surprised many and started a fresh debate over the message voters wanted to deliver to Washington. Outside the Capital Beltway, Americans remain deeply divided in ways that could impact the division of power and authority within the intergovernmental partnership.

For a non-partisan organization like the National League of Cities (NLC), representing 19,000 cities of every size, such divisions are a concern for sure. Fortunately, NLC was not caught off guard by the election outcome because our 2017 Advocacy Agenda began taking shape two years ago, when our bipartisan leadership first started thinking about what a presidential transition would mean for cities.

In 2015, NLC convened a number of highly respected city leaders to form a Presidential Election Task Force with the goal of forging a truly bipartisan campaign platform for cities. The campaign, Cities Lead, was built on a platform of three issues important to every city: public safety, infrastructure, and the economy. City leaders around the nation used the Cities Lead Playbook to engage with the presidential candidates of both parties and to obtain assurances and commitments that areas of broad bipartisan consensus would remain on solid ground — regardless of the party in power.

Thanks to the work of that task force, NLC was able to create engagement opportunities during President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign and spotlight city leaders at the Republican National Convention (and Democratic National Convention). On election night, when the Trump campaign declared victory, NLC was there to congratulate him as the president-elect of the United States.

There is a fair amount of uncertainty about the priorities of the next administration and the 115th Session of Congress, but we are certain of at least three areas of common ground between the incoming administration and cities: the need to create greater resources for infrastructure, a desire to help cities and neighborhoods reduce crime and grow opportunity, and a focus on creating and retaining jobs.

It is unfortunate that the president-elect too often relies on mischaracterizations of cities, and there appears to be an urgent need for city leaders to build relationships with stakeholders inside and outside of the new administration. That’s why NLC is taking the lead and focusing on what may be cities’ most important federal priority for 2017: promoting a positive narrative around cities to the Administration and new lawmakers in Congress.

In 2008, then-Candidate Barack Obama said along the campaign trail that “we need to stop seeing our cities as the problem and start seeing them as the solution.” There is little question that, within the recent intergovernmental partnership, local governments were empowered by the greater value placed on cities by the outgoing administration.

Place-based programs prospered across federal agencies and allocated federal funding directly to local governments, including those programs strongly associated with NLC like the My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge and the Mayors Challenge to End Veterans Homelessness. The appointment of multiple former mayors and city officials to lead federal agencies, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Transportation, sent a message about the value of local leaders and ensured a city point of view inside the Obama Administration and at every cabinet meeting.

Of course, there were many actions taken by the Administration which drew criticism from NLC, including President Obama’s repeated proposals to cap tax exempt municipal bonds to achieve a balanced budget, and the $1 billion cut to the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program early in his first term that has yet to be reversed.

The fact remains that, as the result of a strong relationship between local leaders and the White House, the majority of decision-makers inside the Obama Administration understood that the overall success of federal policies depends on good local input and leadership.

This, then, is our main advice to the incoming administration: gain local insight.

Alongside our Cities Lead Advocacy Agenda, NLC also remains focused on specific legislative priorities. Our top asks for Congress this year are to protect tax-exempt municipal bonds, to authorize the collection of sales tax on internet purchases, and to allocate funding for infrastructure directly to local governments.

NLC has built a history of progress and success with both Democratic and Republican leadership in Congress, and we are poised to continue that success. Over the previous session of Congress, NLC helped deliver legislative victories for cities: a five-year transportation bill that puts more money in the hands of local governments; a water bill that includes resources for cities with contaminated water, like Flint, Michigan; a public health bill that significantly increases resources to battle the opioid epidemic tearing through communities; and spending bills that have largely maintained level funding for local priorities — just to name a few.

What’s most impressive is that Congress sent all of these measures to the president without tampering with municipal bonds.

New challenges and opportunities await cities, and NLC, in the coming year. Yet, as a non-partisan organization, NLC is the best-placed organization to build a new partnership for cities with the incoming administration, to advance policies where we are aligned, and to express opposition without fear of reprisal.

In turn, we are asking city leaders to help us in our mission by reintroducing their city to members of Congress (and Congressional staff) in their district as well as to the new administration officials in federal agencies overseeing the programs that matter most to their city.

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

Five Ways Your City Can Benefit from the “Solar in Your Community” Challenge

Offering $5 million in cash prizes and technical assistance over 18 months, the Challenge supports local teams across the country in their efforts to develop programs or projects that bring solar to their communities.

There are 19 megawatts of solar installed in the city of Portland. Pictured is the Oregon Convention Center. (Jeremy Jeziorski)

This is a guest post by Odette Mucha.

In 2016, solar energy was the largest source of new generating capacity in the United States. With more than one million solar projects now operating across the country, the U.S. has over 35 gigawatts of total solar installed capacity – enough to power the equivalent of 6.5 million average American homes. This is an industry that is growing fast.

Despite this rapid growth, however, solar energy remains inaccessible to nearly half of American households and businesses, as well as many local governments and nonprofits. There are several reasons for this:

  • Nearly half of all rooftops cannot host solar due to insufficient roof space, lack of control over the roof (renters, condos), or shading.
  • While the federal Investment Tax Credit has grown the solar market, it excludes individuals and organizations with no federal tax liability, such as cities, nonprofits, low income individuals, and retirees
  • Low income populations face even greater challenges, often due to poor roof conditions, lower than average credit scores, and lack of access to affordable financing.

And yet, these communities stand to benefit the most from going solar – from stabilizing their energy costs to reducing air pollution. Cities go solar through the Solar in Your Community Challenge, a program launched by U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative to expand solar access to those who have, to date, been left out of the growing solar market.

The Solar in Your Community Challenge encourages the development of innovative financial and business models that serve low and moderate-income communities, local governments, and/or non-profits. Offering $5 million in cash prizes and technical assistance over 18 months, the Challenge supports local teams across the country in their efforts to develop programs or projects that bring solar to these segments of their communities, while proving that these business models can be widely replicated and scaled up.

Why should cities participate in the Solar in Your Community Challenge?

  1. Save Money on Municipal Electricity Bills

Local governments, which own approximately 10 percent of commercial buildings (schools, office buildings, public assembly buildings, etc.), spend approximately $14.7 billion on electricity – 12 percent of total commercial building expenditures (EIA data). Solar energy can cut cities’ monthly electricity bills and make funds available for other priorities.

  1. Create Local Jobs

The solar industry is a proven driver of job growth. As deployment has soared, so have solar jobs – there are nearly 209,000 solar workers in the U.S. today, with more than half of them in installation jobs that can’t be outsourced. Further, these workers are paid competitive wages, with installers making a median wage of $21 per hour.

  1. Help Low Income Residents

Low income households pay a large portion of their income towards electricity bills. An analysis by Groundswell found that the lowest income households spent nearly 10 percent of their income, over four times more than the average consumer. Access to low cost solar can provide price stability and bill relief to low and moderate income households.

  1. Improve Resiliency

Cities around the country are facing increased threats from natural disasters and are taking steps to plan for them. During extreme weather events, solar energy can help prevent outages, provide energy for critical facilities, and aid in recovery efforts. Solar can also provide energy to remote areas.

  1. Meet Environmental Goals

Using solar power instead of conventional forms of energy reduces the amount of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and other pollutants that are emitted into the environment. Reducing the amount of pollution translates into cleaner air, reduced water consumption, and improved health.

Cities can participate in the challenge in two ways – as part of a program team or a project team.

Program teams create new programs that enable the installation of solar for use by low income households, governmental organizations and/or nonprofits. Program Teams will be led by governments, utilities or financial institutions.

Project teams develop and install a new solar system or a portfolio of systems that benefit low income households, governmental organizations and/or nonprofits using innovative and scalable business practices. Project Teams can be led by anyone, but should include a combination of key organizations like cities, solar developers, utilities, financial institutions and community organizations.

The application deadline to participate in the Challenge is March 17, 2017. Click here to learn more about the Solar in Your Community Challenge and apply today!

odette_mucha_125x150About the author: Odette Mucha is a Technology Manager at the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative. She is the manager of the Solar in Your Community Challenge.

Seven Cities Work with NLC to Build Early Learning Communities

City teams heard from a panel of three national experts about the area where workplace and economic support policies intersect with early childhood education.

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The earliest years of life are critical to a child’s development. High-quality education and development for children from birth to age five not only promotes physical and social-emotional health and a strong foundation for success in school and life, it also helps build strong local economies and thriving communities. (Getty Images)

Earlier this month, NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF Institute) brought local leaders from seven cities together in Washington, D.C. as part of its City Leadership for Building an Early Learning Nation initiative, supported by the Bezos Family Foundation. The meeting gave local leaders from cities committed to becoming early learning communities the opportunity to hear from experts on many of the key issues they are grappling with in their efforts to ensure every young child thrives and reaches their potential.

Participating cities included San Francisco; Portland, Maine; Kansas City, Missouri; Minneapolis; Pittsburgh; Jacksonville, Florida; and Dayton, Ohio, which have been part of NLC’s Early Learning Nation initiative since July 2015.

City teams heard from a panel of three national experts about the area where workplace and economic support policies intersect with early childhood education. Emily Martin, general counsel and vice president for Workplace Justice for the National Women’s Law Center, discussed the ways in which conditions of low-wage jobs – which often include unpredictable and non-traditional schedules and low pay – make it very challenging for families to secure stable child care arrangements. Michelle McCready, chief of policy at Child Care Aware of America, laid out data from Child Care Aware’s recently released Parents and the High Cost of Child Care report, and discussed how early care and education is unaffordable for families in nearly every state. Heidi Goldberg, director of Economic Opportunity and Financial Empowerment in the YEF Institute, spotlighted innovative city efforts to set families up for economic success, including NLC’s newly formed Economic Mobility and Opportunity Task Force.

Julie Holland, Education Advisor to Mayor Sly James of Kansas City, Missouri, reflects on what she learned from the session on creating family-friendly policies to support young children.

On the meeting’s second day, the seven cities were joined by 10 communities from the Center for the Study of Social Policy’s Early Childhood-LINC network for a discussion on promoting racial equity in early childhood systems. Lindsay Allard Agnamba, executive director of School Readiness Consulting, and Michelle Molitor, founder of the Fellowship for Race & Equity in Education, facilitated a series of small group conversations on how participants can leverage their roles in city government to promote racial equity. Participants committed to taking action steps to promote upon returning to their cities.

Charmaine Webster, Preschool Promise Program Manager at Learn to Earn Dayton, in Dayton, Ohio, shares her takeaways from the session on racial equity.

The convening also featured Ellen Galinsky, executive director of Mind in the Making at the Bezos Family Foundation. Watch Galinsky lay out her vision for an Early Learning Nation.

Through the City Leadership for Building an Early Learning Nation initiative, NLC will continue to work with these city leaders toward the goal of building an Early Learning Nation by 2025. If you’re interested in learning more, contact Alana Eichner at NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education and Families at eichner@nlc.org.

About the author: Alana Eichner is the Early Childhood Associate in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

8 Ways Cities Can Prepare for the Future of Work

We know that automation and artificial intelligence will have a great impact on the future of work, play, and life – but we shouldn’t jump to the assumption that this will be a net negative.

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Advocates from the tech world tout a basic income as a way to counteract the economic blow of automation replacing jobs currently occupied by humans. (Getty Images)

This post originally appeared on Business Insider. The post was republished with permission.

Fundamental shifts in society are upending the current nature of work. With automation and artificial intelligence already permeating nearly every sector of the economy, disruption is happening at an accelerated pace.

Our recent presidential election made clear that workforce shifts are felt by a broad swath of the American public. People are looking to elected officials at every level of government for a new response to these changes.

We have to move the policy discussion away from job retraining towards job rethinking.

NLC’s latest report, The Future of Work in Cities, examines the rapid changes occurring in today’s workforce. Here are eight suggestions from that report on how city leaders — the most responsive government leaders — can approach the rapidly shifting future of work.

Rethink education and workforce training programs.

The strength of cities comes from the people that live in them. As cities prepare for the future of work, they must address talent development by collaborating with business leaders, educational institutions, and community-based organizations to ensure education and training programs match workforce needs.

Update policies to reflect the changing composition of the workforce.

Tomorrow’s workforce will be significantly more diverse. Women will continue to make up a larger portion of the workforce, and the racial and ethnic makeup of the workforce will change. The workforce is also getting older, as many elderly workers delay retirement and younger people delay working. These changes shift the fundamental needs of employees and, subsequently, the way employers should respond. Flexibility will be critical.

Support entrepreneurs and startups as a core workforce development strategy.

Innovation is the lifeblood of city economic growth. Local leaders need to create a strong startup culture through low tax and regulatory barriers, and strong regional networks with access to capital that allow startups to scale. As cities continue to lower barriers of entry for small businesses and support local startups, innovation will flourish.

Build equitable business development programs.

Equity is critical to building a strong workforce. Policies that promote equity in areas such as health and education often have positive effects on economic growth. Likewise, policies that address marginalized groups reduce political conflict and strengthen public institutions and social organizations, feeding into a virtuous cycle of growth.

Invest in digital and physical infrastructure that supports the workforce of tomorrow.

Investment in reliable, high-speed internet and expanded broadband services is critical to supporting a competitive workforce. In addition to digital infrastructure, cities must also invest in roads, bridges and transit systems.

In cities, people like to walk, bike, and take public transit, while single occupancy vehicle use continues to decline. This preference, combined with a move toward autonomous vehicles, means that cities will need to rethink investment priorities while considering new uses for car-oriented infrastructure like parking garages.

Ensure access to paid leave for families.

The United States is one of few developed countries that doesn’t offer some type of guaranteed paid leave for new parents. Yet companies that offer these policies retain more employees and avoid lengthy talent searches. Cities are leading in this space. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors, for example, mandates six weeks of paid parental leave for workers. This long overdue policy benefits everyone, giving parents the opportunity to maintain their careers, helping organizations retain employees, and bringing stability to the city’s workforce and economy.

Consider offering portable benefit systems.

As workers change jobs more frequently and contract work becomes more common, the policy environment around benefits needs to shift. Benefits that once accompanied most employment situations are becoming more elusive, and portable benefits, which are tied to individuals rather than employers, represent one potential solution.

These typically wrap together some form of paid leave, health insurance, worker’s compensation/unemployment, and retirement fund matching. Proposals for this type of system vary.

Some suggest that it should be universal and administered by government or a public/private institution created for such a purpose. Others think it should be administered by non-governmental community-based groups. Either way, portable benefits have the potential to support those who work outside the realm of the traditional nine-to-five economy.

Explore basic income and other broad-based social support systems.

Basic income, which guarantees every citizen a regular, unconditional sum of money, is gaining support in policy conversations. This is intended to serve the same function as a living wage by bringing all individuals up to an economic baseline. In some ways, this proposal resembles existing welfare systems, with the major exception that the benefit goes to everyone, regardless of age, ability, class status, or participation in the workforce.

Advocates from the tech world tout it as a way to counteract the economic blow of automation replacing jobs currently occupied by humans. Other supporters argue that basic income is more streamlined, efficient, and transparent than current social welfare systems. Finally, there are others who argue that a basic income might allow individuals to pursue more creative, enjoyable interests. A full-scale of examination of the cultural and financial implications of basic income will be key to implementing such a system.

We know that automation and artificial intelligence will have a great impact on the future of work, play, and life. However, we shouldn’t jump to the assumption that this will be a net negative.

Despite the evolving nature of the economy, people are still working, the economy is still growing, and indicators show that life has gotten better for the majority of the world’s workers. To stay on that path, these and other such ideas should be higher on the agenda of policymakers. Cities are the place where new ideas and opportunities happen first, so we should prepare for the technological shifts to come and usher in a future that works for everyone.

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

4 Reasons Why e-Fairness is Good for City Economies

The online sales tax loophole isn’t just an unfair disadvantage for local businesses – it also prevents cities from collecting the taxes already owed to them on remote online purchases.

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While events such as Small Business Saturday help promote brick-and-mortar sales, more needs to be done. Now is the time for Congress to close the online sales tax loophole. (Getty Images)

As we enter the season of gift-giving, local officials should be aware of an issue that costs their cities billions of dollars every year: the online sales tax loophole. Each year, an estimated $23 billion in owed sales tax goes uncollected from online transactions – funds that cities could use on public safety, fixing sidewalks, building libraries, and many more services for their residents.

Despite their necessity to our cities, local brick-and-mortar retailers compete at a five to 10 percent disadvantage to online sellers by collecting legally-required sales tax at the time of purchase – something online retailers are not required to do. In a year in which more people participated in Cyber Monday than Black Friday, this trend is especially frightening – not only for local retailers, but also for local governments. While events such as Small Business Saturday help promote brick-and-mortar sales, more needs to be done. Now is the time for Congress to close the online sales tax loophole.

Current legislation such as the Remote Transactions Parity Act (H.R. 2775) and the Marketplace Fairness Act (S. 698) are good for local retailers and help to create a level playing field. By allowing local governments to collect sales tax on internet purchases, cities will be better able to close budget gaps and use the funds to provide critical services to residents – at no additional cost to the federal government. NLC continues to advocate for these bills, and will fight for similar legislation in the next Congress. Here are four reasons why:

  1. Opinion polls consistently show that local government is the most trusted level of government. E-Fairness legislation gives cities and towns the ability to better serve their residents and businesses without impacting the federal deficit.
  2. Cities are where America comes together to live and work; they are the primary drivers of economic development and growth. Main street retailers shouldn’t be subjected to a legislative loophole that can cause the loss of revenue and jobs, and cities shouldn’t be at a financial disadvantage when it comes to collecting the taxes owed to them.
  3. A century ago, just 14 percent of Americans lived in cities; today, 80 percent do. Cities manage the physical and civic infrastructure on which America depends. Local governments own and operate 78 percent of the nation’s road miles, 43 percent of the nation’s federal-aid highway miles, and 50 percent of the nation’s bridge inventory. Additional financial resources would allow cities to build new infrastructure and improve existing infrastructure.
  4. The decision to levy a sales tax should be decided at local level, with no interference from the federal government. Cities need a partnership with the federal government – not a mandate that preempts their ability to collect taxes and creates an undue financial burden.

Our goal in advocating for e-Fairness legislation is simple: give cities the tools they need to thrive in the economy of the future and empower city leaders with the autonomy they need to run local government more efficiently.

About the author: Brett Bolton is the Principal Associate for Federal Advocacy (Finance, Administration and Intergovernmental Affairs) at NLC.