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.

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.

3 Reasons Why Infrastructure Needed to Be Addressed in the GOP Debate

Last night, Republican presidential hopefuls again stood before the nation vying to be their party’s nominee. One issue was sorely missing from the debate.

16837601306_92fbdc7017_kA view of the podium bearing the presidential seal at NLC’s Congressional City Conference. (Jason Dixson)

For three hours last night at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., 11 Republican presidential hopefuls went back-and-forth on issues ranging from immigration, the nuclear deal with Iran and gay marriage. While the pundits engage in their own debate over who will next challenge frontrunner Donald Trump in the polls, issues of critical importance to the nation’s cities continue to go without the national spotlight they deserve.

Over the course of the election process, the National League of Cities (NLC) is helping city officials engage directly with the men and women hoping to be the next President as part of our Cities Lead 2016 campaign. We want to make sure the candidates know that city issues are America’s issues. One of those issues, infrastructure, hasn’t been mentioned once in the two debates. Here are three reasons why that’s a problem:

1. The Sad State of American Infrastructure is Becoming a Public Safety Issue

Many bridges and structures throughout the country, such as this damaged overpass in Pennsylvania, are in desperate need of repair. (Getty Images)

One in nine of our nation’s bridges are rated as structurally deficient; 240,000 water main breaks happen each year; the number of deficient dams is estimated at more than 4,000 — these stats are just a snapshot of the poor state of America’s infrastructure. On a recent trip to Concord, N.H., as part of our Cities Lead 2016 campaign, we heard directly from local officials on the precarious conditions poor infrastructure has created for the community.

In this city of over 40,000, local officials recently had to close a bridge on which it was no longer deemed safe for fire trucks to travel. The difficult decision to close the bridge has forced first responders to go on a detour through two cities, causing delays in response times. Due to the lack of adequate funding for infrastructure, local officials across the country are making difficult decisions like those made in Concord that impact the safety and well-being of residents — when they shouldn’t have to do so. The next President must tackle the unacceptable state of our nation’s critical infrastructure.

2. Climate Change is Exacerbating Existing Infrastructure Challenges

ThinkstockPhotos-525078077This flooded underpass in New York City illustrates the need for infrastructure improvements that reflect an awareness of the negative effects of climate change. (Getty Images) 

Adding to the concern about aging infrastructure is the impact of extreme weather events. Heat waves, droughts, heavy downpours, floods and hurricanes are straining existing infrastructure challenges, and introducing new ones. With climate change and higher temperatures, extreme weather storms are arriving with greater frequency and intensity. Cities like Dubuque, Iowa, face chronic and severe flooding as a result and are adopting solutions to managing an increasing amount of stormwater runoff.

Extreme weather events, sea level rise, shifting precipitation patterns and temperature variability — all intensified by climate change — have significant implications for water quality and availability, roads, rail and airports, energy infrastructure and our cities’ building stock. These trends have real, everyday consequences for local governments, which are on the front lines when it comes to mitigation and adaptation efforts and making sure their community is resilient. We ask that the candidates give climate change, and the impact it has on local infrastructure, the attention it deserves.

3. The World Has Changed. Our Infrastructure Must Too.

As greater numbers of city residents access data using mobile phones, more cities are finding that apps are an ideal way to share public transport information. (Getty Images)

Together with a series of rapid technological advancements, recent demographic trends are changing the nature of transportation and mobility in cities. Over the last several years, Americans of all demographic groups have embraced new modes of transportation. Active transportation has seen a significant surge — from 2000-2012, the number of people who primarily bike to work increased 60 percent nationwide.

Better technology is also creating greater demand for public transit. There are currently 99 transit expansion projects and 23 major system renovations underway throughout the country, in addition to almost 100 other projects in the pipeline at some stage of the planning, finance and review process. In the very near future even our roads will need to adapt to new technologies, including support for self-driving cars.

We must reexamine how federal infrastructure dollars are supporting 21st century trends. Since 1992, roughly 80 percent of all federal transportation funding has been reserved for the highway system, at the expense of alternative modes. Cities ask that the candidates discuss their vision for the nation’s transportation infrastructure.

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 8.58.14 AMAbout the author: Tim Mudd is the Senior Associate for Strategic Communications at the National League of Cities. Contact Tim at mudd@nlc.org.

Republican Presidential Debate: Takeaways for Cities

 This post was written by Zach George.

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(Jason Dixson)

Last night’s GOP debate marked the beginning of a long but important process to elect the 45th president of the United States. Six months out from the Iowa caucus, the presidential campaign season is quickly ramping up with all 22 candidates (for now) making their pitch to be their party’s nominee.

Over the course of the election process, the National League of Cities (NLC) expects the candidates to discuss the top issues that are at the forefront of concern to cities: the economy, infrastructure and public safety.

“A meaningful presidential debate should include a discussion of the issues that cities face and how each candidate plans to address them,” said National League of Cities CEO Clarence E. Anthony. “We look forward to being a resource to all of the candidates throughout their campaigns.”

As expected, the economy was a major theme during the GOP debate. But moving forward, we hope to hear more substantive ideas and solutions to grow the economy and create jobs for the millions of Americans that call a city or town their home. What we didn’t hear was a substantive discussion of our other two priorities: the nation’s crumbling infrastructure and public safety. It’s critical that the candidates understand the gravity of these issues in cities and the price we’ll pay as a nation if not addressed.

Municipal governments are responsible for the development and maintenance of most of the nation’s infrastructure, owning and operating 78 percent of the nation’s roads, 43 percent of the nation’s federal-aid highway miles and 50 percent of the nation’s bridge inventory. Over two hundred million trips are taken daily across deficient bridges, threatening the safety of our residents and the movement of goods throughout the country. Cities are calling for federal leadership to renew and restore our once renowned infrastructure system.

Lastly, cities are looking for a serious national conversation about public safety. Stronger partnerships between local and federal government are badly needed. Recent incidents have demonstrated the need for an increased national focus on community policing to build trust between public safety officers and the communities they serve. Partnerships between cities and the federal government have proven to be effective to lower crime; however, more is needed to strengthen policing in cities. We ask the presidential candidates to discuss their plan to invest in community policing and make communities safer in future debates.

Although only 10 of the 22 presidential candidates debated last night, NLC calls on all the presidential candidates to address and prioritize the issues that affect the more than 250 million Americans that live in cities. NLC will keep reaching out to candidates to have a healthy and thorough discussion on these topics throughout campaign and up to November 7, 2016 on Election Day. It’s a long ways away, but this election is too important to sit on the sidelines.

Zach-George-CS
About the Author:
Zach George is a summer intern with the NLC Federal Advocacy team. Contact Zach at
George@nlc.org.