Rescissions Package a No-Go in the Senate

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) shut down the idea of a recessions package to reduce spending in the recently passed Omnibus bill, as has been floated in the House and by the administration. McConnell said that this action could imperil future negotiations with Democrats, telling Fox News, “you can’t make an agreement one month and say, ‘OK, we really didn’t mean it.’” He also pointed out that the administration was involved in bill negotiations and the President signed it, so they should not have been shocked to learn that the omnibus included Democratic priorities. Meanwhile, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told the House Appropriations Committee’s financial services subcommittee on Wednesday that he hopes to send a package in the coming weeks. He also said they plan to target money from previous years as well.

At Long Last, Congress and the President Fund FY 2018

After months of wrangling, five continuing resolutions, two short-term government shutdowns, and much argument over what funding levels and policy riders should make the final cut, Congress voted and the president signed an omnibus appropriations bill that will keep the federal government funded through the end of the current fiscal year on September 30, 2018.

The $1.3 billion appropriation represents a significant success for our members! Many of NARC’s 2018 legislative and funding priorities received substantially more funding than the president requested and more than was appropriated in fiscal year 2017. Areas that saw significant funding increases include:

  • Transportation and infrastructure, including TIGER Grants, AMTRAK funding, and autonomous vehicles;
  • Community Development Block Grant (CDBG);
  • Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) state workforce formula grants;
  • Economic Development Administration (EDA);
  • Census Bureau;
  • Opioid crisis relief, including funding for prevention, treatment, and law enforcement;
  • Rural water and broadband programs;
  • Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds;
  • Aging programs;
  • Low Income and Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP);
  • HOME Investment Partnerships Program and other housing assistance programs; and
  • Homelessness assistance.

Several policy riders and authorizations were also adopted as part of the omnibus, including:

  • Reauthorization of the EPA Brownfields Program, including NARC supported language;
  • Reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration is now extended through September; and
  • Short-term reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is extended through the end of July.

For more information, check out our new blog post on the FY 2018 omnibus appropriations bill.

2018 Omnibus Appropriations Bill Bolsters Many State and Local Programs

Following the release of the $1.3 trillion fiscal year 2018 omnibus appropriations bill on March 21, NARC staff has been combing through the 2,232 page document to learn how localities will be impacted by these federal program funding levels. Much of it is great news for regions! The bill proposes additional funding for so many of the priorities we have advocated for over the last year.

Here are a few highlights:

Transportation

TIGER Grants: The TIGER program increased to $1.5 billion, tripling FY 2017’s funding level of $500 million. It provides some planning money for the first time in many years, allowing for up to $15 million in planning grants. A minimum of 30 percent of the funds are reserved for rural areas, an increase from the current 20 percent requirement.

STBGP: FAST Act highway programs are fully funded, and the bill also includes a one-time increase of $198 billion for the Surface Transportation Block Grant Program (STBGP). The increase will be distributed as it is through the FAST Act, meaning that funds will be suballocated to local areas. The funds are only eligible for road, bridge, and tunnel projects, and the STBGP set-aside (TAP) is waived. The bill includes an additional amount for public/Indian lands and territories ($320 million), and a new competitive bridge program in states with densities of less than 100 persons per square mile ($225 million).

New Life for New Starts: While the administration proposed narrowing the Capital Investment Grants Program (New Starts) funding to only cover projects already underway, the omnibus agreement provides nearly $400 million for new projects. This is an overall increase of $232 million.

Transit: Transit receives full FAST Act funding with an additional $834 million in general fund appropriations, which includes funding for state of good repair grants, buses, and bus facilities.

Rail: The bill includes large increases for several Federal Railroad Administration programs, including Amtrak which will receive $1.9 billion (an increase of $447 million) with $650 million allocated for capital projects along the Northeast Corridor (an increase of $322 million). The bill also includes funding for three FAST Act rail programs that previously received far less than their authorized amounts: the consolidated grant program to support PTC installation ($593 million), the federal-state partnership state of good repair program ($250 million), and restoration and enhancement grants ($20 million).\

Extends FAA: The Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization is now extended through September.

Automated Vehicle Research: The bill repurposes funds to create a $100 million pot for study grants and implementation of an overall study program.

No Rescissions: The previous version of House and Senate bills would have rescinded contract authority, and an amendment by Representative Rob Woodall (R-GA) to the House bill would have made suballocated STBGP subject to rescission. Since this bill ditches the rescission, there is no need for the amendment.

Clearview Font: The bill temporarily prohibits the use of funds to enforce the termination of an Interim Approval to use the Clearview Font on highway signs and requires FHWA to conduct a “comprehensive review” of the research and report back to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.

Aging Programs

ACL: The Administration for Community Living is funded at $2.171 billion, a $178 million increase from fiscal year 2017.

Senior Workforce: The Senior Workforce Development Program remains level at $400 million, rejecting the Trump administration’s proposal to eliminate the program and the House’s proposal to cut the program funding by 100 million.

OAA, Title III: The Older Americans Act (OAA) Title III programs received significant increases:

  • $35 million increase to OAA Title III B Home and Community-Based Supportive Services
  • $59 million increase to Title III C Nutrition Services
  • $5 million increase to Title III D Preventative Health
  • $30 increase to Title III E Family Caregiver Support

Census Bureau

Boost to Census Funding: The Census Bureau is funded at $2.8 billion, an increase of more than $1.344 billion from fiscal year 2017. Over $2.5 billion of that amount will be going to periodic censuses and programs, including efforts to continue preparations for the 2020 Census Survey.

Community and Economic Development

CDBG and HOME: The Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG) is funded at $3.3 billion – the amount NARC and the CDBG Coalition requested. The HOME Investment Partnerships Program is funded at $1.362 billion, an increase of $412 million. The Trump administration proposed to eliminate funding for both programs in fiscal years 2018 and 2019.

SSBG & CSBG: The Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) and the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) received level funding at $1.7 billion and $715 million, respectively.

State Workforce Formula Grants: Increased grants under Title I of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) by a combined $80 million, including:

  • $30 million increase to WIOA Adult program
  • $30 million increase to WIOA Youth programs
  • $20 million increase to WIOA Dislocated Worker state grants

EDA: The Economic Development Administration (EDA) received a $25.5 million increase. This allocation ignores the Trump administration’s recommendation to eliminate funding for the agency.

Environment

Brownfields Authorization Language: The omnibus package contains the brownfields reauthorization language NARC has pushed for, including:

  • Allowing local governments to acquire abandoned or tax delinquent property that is contaminated and to clean up the property without fear of liability
  • Funding for brownfields cleanup grants
  • Creating a multipurpose brownfields grant
  • Allowing for the recovery of limited administrative costs

Urban and Community Forestry Program: The Urban and Community Forestry Program is funded at $28.5 million, an increase from fiscal year 2017. The omnibus package also includes a comprehensive fix for wildfire funding.

Energy

Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Program: The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Program is funded at $2.32 billion, a significant increase of $290 million. Rather than follow the Trump’s recommendations to cut the program by three-fourths, Congress chose to increase EERE’s funding by 14 percent.

LIHEAP: The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program is funded at $3.64 billion, a $250 million increase. This program has been slated for elimination by the Trump administration for fiscal years 2018 and 2019.

Flood Insurance

NFIP: The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is giving a short-term reauthorization through the end of July, incentivizing Congress to complete a full reauthorization before the August recess.

Rural Development

New Broadband Loan and Grant Program: The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Utilities Service received $600 million for a new broadband loan and grant pilot program.

Rural Development Programs: Rural development programs receive $3 billion, an increase of $63.7 million from fiscal year 2017. This includes decreases to the Rural Housing Service and Rural Utilities Service programs, which are funded at $1.99 billion and $661.4 billion respectively.

Substance Abuse Crisis

Opioid Crisis Relief: Includes a $3.2 billion increase for programs responding to the opioid crisis, including funding for prevention, treatment, law enforcement, and other purposes.

Water

Coastal Zone Management Funding: The Coastal Zone Management Program is funded at $75 million, a $5 million increase from the previous fiscal year.

USDA Water/Wastewater Loans: USDA’s Rural Water and Wastewater Program would allow more than $3 billion in loans, $1.8 billion more than the previous fiscal year.

Water State Revolving Funds: The omnibus package provides $2.89 billion in funding to Clean Water State Revolving Funds and Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Funds, an increase of $300 million for each program. The WIFIA loan program also saw an increase in funding this year, currently standing at $63 million.

What Happens Next?

The bill quickly passed through the House and the Senate, leaving one last hurdle: getting the president’s signature. Trump tweeted this morning that he is considering a veto because of two factors:

  • The bill presents no action on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
  • The bill does not provide the full $25 billion the president requested to build a US-Mexico border wall.

On Thursday, March 22 White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters that the president would sign the bill. The president has until midnight tonight to sign the bill to avoid a federal government shutdown. If he vetoes the bill and it goes back to Congress, a short-term continuing resolution might be employed to avert a shutdown and buy more time to discuss next steps.

UPDATE, March 23 at 1:30 PM ET:

In a White House press conference, President Trump signed the fiscal year 2018 omnibus appropriations package, making it public law. The legislation provides funding for the federal government through September 30, the end of fiscal year 2018. Although the president said, “there are a lot of things I’m unhappy about with this bill,” he approved the bill for national security reasons and because it authorizes a major increase in military spending. He criticized the rushed process Congress took to pass this bill, saying he would “never sign another bill like this again.”

Bipartisan Letter for Great Lakes Restoration Funding

Representatives Sander Levin (D-MI) and David Joyce (R-OH) submitted a joint letter to the House Appropriations Committee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies requesting an appropriation of $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) for FY 2019. With 63 bipartisan co-signers joining the effort, this is the largest number of signers supporting GLRI funding. Representative Levin said, “The fact that the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative garners such strong, bipartisan support is a testament to the importance it has to our region and the nation. Our public health and regional economic vibrancy is built on the Great Lakes’ ecological wellbeing, which can only be maintained with our sustained and robust commitment.”

Keeping the Government Funded

Another funding deadline is fast approaching, and Congress has yet to adopt a funding bill that will keep the government open through the end of the current fiscal year on September 30.

Despite increases in both defense and non-defense discretionary funding, many in Congress remain dissatisfied with the $1.3 trillion bill that House and Senate leaders plan to introduce today. The most serious objection is that this budget agreement will significantly add to the deficit, and therefore the debt.

There are also policy differences that continue to get in the way of a final agreement. Whether and how to shore up funding for the Affordable Care Act and Planned Parenthood are two significant stumbling blocks. Funding for immigration enforcement, including the US-Mexico border wall; a host of tax extenders and provisions to address business concerns about the impact of the new tax law; the new rail tunnel between New York and New Jersey, which the White House opposes and is using as a bargaining chip; and school safety and guns also threaten an agreement.

Moreover, it remains to be seen whether House and Senate members have enough time to debate and pass a bill before Friday without resorting to another short-term extension. In light of the upcoming mid-term election, members of both parties want to show their base that the core interests of their communities are being addressed – and many members are attempting to use this bill to do just that.

Preparing the Next Generation of Leaders

To engage the next generation of leaders, some regional councils are putting on innovative programs for high school students. The Atlanta Regional Commission is now recruiting for its next round of its Model Atlanta Regional Commission program, bringing together 50 high school students from its 10-county region to learn about the issues shaping metro Atlanta. The program’s participants practice effective leadership, communication, and collaboration skills through the development of actionable ideas and efforts to promote positive change in the region.

Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization has been visiting various high schools in the region hosting “Think Like a Planner” workshops to teach students how to make their area more accommodating and safe for pedestrians, cyclists, transit users, and motorists. After walking around their local area, the students present their ideas for improvement to a panel of business professionals, showcasing what they have learned about urban planning and transportation decision-making.

Fight Coming Over Clean Air Regulations

The Trump administration signaled this week that it could end California’s long-standing authority to set its own limits on air pollution, largely over a disagreement regarding fuel efficiency standards. The administration faces an April 1 deadline to decide if more stringent fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks, established by the Obama administration, are attainable or need to be reworked. The federal government is seeking to leverage the waiver granted by Congress to California in 1970 that allows the state to set pollution standards that are more stringent than the federal Clean Air Act requires, using it as a wedge to convince California to agree to reductions in fuel efficiency standards. Automobile manufacturers are concerned that separate standards at the federal and California level – the state where more cars are sold than any other – would be overly burdensome.

The National Association of Regional Councils’ 2017 Wrap-Up

Former NARC Executive Director William Dodge once said, “Regions are the new communities of the 21st century. They have emerged just as villages, towns, cities, and counties did before them… And now they determine our fates.”

This quote could not be timelier. As we take time to reflect on the past year and look ahead to 2018, one question has emerged more than any other: What is the role of a 21st century regional council?

Highlighting the innovative initiatives that regional councils are carrying out today and exploring where they can be leaders in their communities drove many of NARC’s activities in 2017.

A Summary of Some of NARC’s Successes Over the Last Year (2017)
  • Trees and Stormwater Website Launch: NARC (along with Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments, the U.S. Forest Service, Davey Resource Group, and Centerline Strategies, LLC) launched a Trees and Stormwater website to provide local decision-makers with tools to integrate trees into stormwater management design and policy.
  • Fleets for the Future: Our S. Department of Energy-funded grant program is continuing to change the face of aggregate procurement methods for alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs), employing a more regional approach that regional councils can replicate.
  • MPO Coordination Rulemaking Reversal: One of NARC’s biggest advocacy victories of 2017 was bipartisan legislation to reverse the Obama administration’s MPO Coordination rulemaking, which was passed unanimously by Congress and signed into law by President Trump.
  • Advocacy on the Hill: NARC continues to make the case for regions to congressional staff and administration officials through face-to-face visits and co-produced letters. More and more, the regional perspective is becoming an essential part of federal legislation and priorities.
  • Major Metros Roundtable: NARC formulated the Regional Major Metro Roundtable to give regional members in major metropolitan areas more opportunities to come together to discuss their greatest challenges, innovations, and ideas.
  • Strengthening Ties with National Advocacy Groups and Coalitions: NARC cultivated relationships with organizations and coalitions to find opportunities for collaboration and joint advocacy. The National League of Cities; National Association of Counties; U.S. Conference of Mayors; National Association of Development Organizations; Campaign to Invest in America’s Workforce; Community Development Block Grant Coalition; Economic Development Coalition; and Campaign for Renewed Rural Development were all significant partners of ours in 2017.
  • Sharing Regional Best Practices: Our member regions’ best innovations were shared during our three annual conferences, our “regional spotlight” in eRegions and Transportation Thursdays, and our new document that compiles new projects and initiatives that regional leaders presented during Rapid-Fire Innovation Sessions at our 2014-2016 Executive Directors Conferences.

We look forward to working with our members and national partners in 2018. Our members do groundbreaking work, and we aim to support them in any way we can!

Implications of Southeast Michigan’s 2045 Forecast

Demographic and socio-economic trends discussed in the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments’ (SEMCOG) 2045 Regional Forecast will necessitate some lifestyle changes in the greater Detroit, Michigan region. The biggest of these trends is the aging of the population and the lack of incoming young people. These trends will create a labor shortage that can impact a regional economy.

One in four people in Southeast Michigan will be over age 65 by 2045. The same will be true in Singapore except they will reach those numbers by 2030. In Singapore, the plan for aging workers is to keep them working. They’ve launched a $2.2 billion program with many initiatives, including subsidizing retraining skills and allowing an employee beyond the retirement age of 62 to work until age 67. Accommodating an older employee involves some creative solutions, e.g., part-time or flexible hours, larger font sizes, and smaller-sized deliveries that are easier for older folks to handle.

The U.S. economy will also see some shifts as industry adapts to an older population. SEMCOG’s 2045 Forecast noted increases in health care and related industries. Another not-so-obvious increase is expected in the home remodeling industry, as baby boomers choose to “age in place.” Home renovations from this age group are expected to account for nearly one-third of all remodeling dollars by 2025, according to a report from the Joint Center for Housing Studies. I was in China recently, where an article by my former college advisor went viral. It was about how she remodeled her parents’ home to help them age in place. It dealt with a range of issues, including not only removing physical barriers to increase accessibility, but also improving line-of-sight, lighting, sound, as well as designing storage and furniture details.

Speaking of aging in place, the City of Auburn Hills, Michigan, has taken a proactive approach to this concept. With input from the community, they know that many older residents enjoy city events, parks, and plan to stay in Auburn Hills as they age. To address potential barriers, the city created an Age-Friendly 2015 Action Plan. According to Mayor Kevin McDaniel, the plan “is the start of our journey to creating a city that will be ideal for residents of all ages for years to come. It will serve as a guide as we continue to commit to improving our citizens’ and visitors’ access to our community.”

While local governments are already planning for an aging community, they are also adjusting to fewer school-age students and figuring out what to do with school buildings no longer needed. In Dearborn Heights, Michigan, Berwyn Elementary School is now Berwyn Senior Recreation Center. Built in 1958, Dearborn Heights began leasing the building from the Crestwood School District in 1979. Housing 20 classrooms, a large multipurpose room, and a kitchen, the facility is now used for classes, special events, health programs, meetings, and the Wayne County Nutrition Program. The city purchased the building from the Crestwood School District in 1997 and renamed it the Berwyn Senior Recreation Center in 2015. Similar things may happen in your community, as the U.S. senior population is forecast to grow dramatically in the next 30 years (see figure below).

U.S. Senior Population, Aged 65 and Over, 2010-2045

Source: SEMCOG 2045 Forecast, 2017.

A version of this blog originally appeared as a sidebar to a longer article in the Spring 2017 issue of Semscope, SEMCOG’s quarterly magazine. 

Interested in knowing how SEMCOG’s data impacts local governments and residents in Southeast Michigan? Then, you’ll want to read Xuan’s blog posts. Other posts by Xuan Liu.

Dr. Xuan Liu is the Research Manager for Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG). He oversees data analysis on demographics, socio-economics, land use, and transportation at SEMCOG. He is also specialized in modeling land use and transportation relations. He received his Ph.D. from University of Michigan.

Want America to Be ‘Great’ Again? Pay For It – By Pat Jones, IBTTA

The following article, Want America to be Great Again? Pay for It, by Pat Jones was originally published as a guest editorial in the April 18 issue of Time magazine. Pat Jones is the CEO of the International Bridge, Tunnel, and Turnpike Association (IBTTA), an organization that represents tolling agencies from around the nation and world. His organization has been at the forefront of advocating for increased resources to maintain our roads, bridges and tunnels, and other infrastructure. This blog argues for a coherent, thoughtful transportation policy that provides the necessary funds to ensure that America’s roads and bridges, and other infrastructure, are properly maintained. Most recently, Mr. Jones was a general session speaker at NARC’s  2017 National Conference of Regions.

Elon Musk recently announced that he is fed up with traffic in Los Angeles and will soon begin boring a tunnel under the city to relieve congestion. As a billionaire and innovator, Musk has the resources to make something like this happen. But even if he bores his tunnel, where does that leave the rest of the country with its congested highways, crumbling bridges, aging water systems and fragile power grid? One big push in L.A. doesn’t solve the problems of an entire country struggling under the burden of billions of dollars in deferred maintenance. We need a national vision to pay for and revitalize our infrastructure for all Americans.

For decades, my association (IBTTA) and many others have urged Congress and the states to make much bigger investments in our vital infrastructure. But we are still far behind where we would like to be. The problem is us. We say we want better roads and safer drinking water. But year after year, we refuse to come up with the money to make the big improvements that we need. Yes, some states and local governments have taken it upon themselves to raise revenue. But that isn’t enough to meet all our infrastructure needs.

But there is hope. President Donald Trump has shined a bright light on infrastructure. During the campaign, his inaugural address – and most recently, his Joint Address to Congress – he emphasized his commitment to rebuild roads, bridges and schools. Last October, his advisors published a paper that proposed $1 trillion in new infrastructure investment over ten years by offering tax credits to private investors. And recently, Senate Democrats introduced their own $1 trillion plan to repair crumbling roads, rebuild schools and do more while creating over 15 million new jobs.

As hopeful as these proposals are, there is a big problem: They are heavy on vision and light on details, specifically how to pay for them. Paying for a grand plan is always the sticking point. Those who advance these proposals don’t want to talk about “pay-fors” until the last minute, because they want to limit the opportunity of their adversaries to oppose them. So, we get the big vision first in the light of day, and the messy sausage-making of pay-fors in the dead of night.

And who’s to blame for this? The American people. It may seem that Congress and the President are pursuing wicked ends through clandestine means when they wrap up a deal with pay-fors at the eleventh hour. But they are simply following our lead.

Consider this reader comment in response to a recent newspaper article describing Americans’ reluctance to pay user fees to rebuild infrastructure. The reader said, “Americans want first class roads but don’t want to pay for them. Well, folks, nothing is free. No one will provide these things without taxes or user fees.”

In response to this attitude, Congress and the President have twisted themselves into unnatural shapes to say to voters, “Yes, we’re going to rebuild your infrastructure,” and “No, we’re not going to raise taxes or fees to do it (well, maybe just a little).”

This Harry Houdini act must end. We can’t rebuild our infrastructure if our elected leaders are forced to carry out our will wrapped in a straitjacket and submerged in a glass coffin rapidly filling with water. This tableau makes for great theater but lousy public policy.

Having a grand infrastructure proposal without a means to pay for it doesn’t solve the problem. It merely names the problem and a happy end state, without any of the hard work needed to get to the end. We need to be honest with each other and make sacrifices now to ensure a better future. Sacrifice in this case means money, with Americans paying more than they pay today in exchange for better infrastructure.

It’s time to treat the American people like adults and explain the need for bigger investment in the form of taxes and user fees. Adults understand that there is no free lunch and there are no free roads. Let’s have an honest conversation that starts like this: We are going to build and maintain the finest infrastructure in the world and we, the American people, are going to pay for it.