2018 Legislative Priorities & Updated Member Call Info

Members: Take a look at NARC’s policies and priorities for 2018 below. Additionally, NARC will host a member call to review these policies and priorities, explain how NARC staff are working toward achieving these objectives, and share best practices and tips for educating and influencing Congress.

NARC Member Call! NARC’s Policies and Priorities for 2018
March 14, 3:30 – 4:30 PM ET, Please note the new call time!
Dial: (571) 317-3122 / Access code: 304-259-525
Contact Neil Bomberg (neil@narc.org) or Maci Morin (maci.morin@narc.org) with questions.

Infrastructure Package
NARC urges the federal government to increase direct funding to expand and maintain the nation’s infrastructure, and provide incentives to attract private financing for the subset of projects that can be supported in this manner. The new infrastructure package should resolve the Highway Trust Fund’s funding shortfall, fund regional planning organizations, support multimodal investments, provide flexibility in the projects it supports, and fund existing grant channels.

NARC urges Congress to acknowledge that local governments are a key player creating and incentivizing broadband deployment, recognize local authority over rights of way and other public infrastructure assets, encourage public-private partnerships, establish new grant programs to fund broadband deployment, and increase funding for programs targeted at unserved and underserved communities.

Disaster Recovery
NARC urges Congress to immediately reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program. In addition, Congress should solicit input and guidance from locally elected officials and regional councils on federal emergency preparedness and disaster recovery programs and initiatives. Congress should allocate emergency preparedness, response, and recovery funding directly to regions and localities that know the immediate needs of their communities best.

Farm Bill
NARC urges Congress to support sustained funding for all twelve titles of the Farm Bill to strengthen rural infrastructure (including broadband, water, and wastewater systems), protect our nation’s food supply, increase access to healthy food, and promote environmental stewardship and conservation. Congress should reauthorize the USDA rural development programs that offer critical investments in our nation’s most underserved communities, including the Strategic Economic and Community Program that promotes regional collaboration.

Protect Local Programs
NARC urges Congress to maintain support for federal programs such as the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), HOME Investment Partnerships Program (HOME), Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), the Economic Development Administration, water infrastructure investment and maintenance, funding for senior programs, and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) that ensure municipalities, counties, and regions meet the needs of their communities.

Funding for the 2020 Census
NARC urges Congress to increase Census funding by no less than $300 million above the current funding level, so that the Census Bureau can adequately prepare for the 2020 Decennial Census and support efforts to accurately count historically hard-to-reach populations.

NARC urges Congress to support parity between defense and non-defense discretionary spending for fiscal years 2018 and 2019.

Substance Abuse Crisis
NARC supports federal efforts to partner with local and state officials to help address the addiction and misuse of opioids, including prescription pain relievers, heroin, fentanyl, and other substances. NARC also urges Congress to provide emergency supplemental funding to local governments for medicine-assisted treatment programs, expanded drug abuse prevention and education efforts, naloxone, and drug take-back programs.

NARC urges Congress to reauthorize the Brownfields Reauthorization Act of 2017 (HR 1758), which would increase cleanup grant amounts, create a multi-purpose grant, allow for administrative costs, and clarify liability issues for local governments. NARC also urges Congress to at least maintain level funding for fiscal years 2018 and 2019.

Will Electric Vehicles Have Their Year in 2018?

Alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs) became mainstays in the news in 2017, with several big stories focusing predominantly on electric vehicles (EVs). This, combined with several other factors, could mean a big year in 2018 for EVs and a real shift towards an electric, autonomous, and connected vehicle future.

Electric Vehicle Tax Credit

The electric vehicle tax credit ranges from $2,500 to $7,500 for new EVs purchased depending on the size of the vehicle. This tax credit is available until 200,000 qualified vehicles have been sold in the U.S. by each vehicle manufacturer. As a side note, this threshold has yet to be met by any manufacturer.

The threat of elimination of the electric vehicle tax credit in the federal tax overhaul was one of the biggest EV news stories in 2017. The House version of the bill originally eliminated the $7,500 EV tax credit, while the Senate version did not.

Once the EV tax credit was up for elimination, support came rolling in to save it. Even local leaders jumped into the fray, producing a letter signed by 22 mayors that urged Congress to preserve the EV tax credit. The letter cited jobs created in the U.S. automobile industry and the financial savings afforded to American families through owning an EV as direct benefits of this tax credit.

The House and the Senate were ultimately able to reach a deal on the EV tax credit, protecting it from elimination in the final version of the tax bill. While it is not clear what pushed Congress to save the credit, there is little doubt that it will help the EV market grow beyond 2018.

Transportation as a U.S. Greenhouse Gas Pollutant

Another overarching factor contributing to a potential EV boom in 2018 is the designation of transportation as the biggest source of U.S. greenhouse gas pollution. This is the first time in 40 years that power plants have not been recognized as the largest polluters.

While electricity use has not declined, its production has become much cleaner compared to the transportation sector. Wind, solar, and natural gas have replaced a sizable portion of coal-produced electricity, reversing negative trends of power plant emissions. This shift may help make the case for implementing policies or other mechanisms to increase EV adoption in states and localities.

EV Volkswagen Settlement Funds

The release of Volkswagen (VW) settlement funds will be another big variable for the 2018 EV market. As a part of the VW emissions settlement, $4.7 billion will be used for zero emission vehicle (ZEV) investments and Environmental Mitigation Trust funds for states.

The $2 billion ZEV investment will install more than 2,500 EV chargers during the first national ZEV investment cycle, according to Electrify America, with more plans to come.

The plans for the $2.7 billion for Environmental Mitigation Trust funds vary from state to state, but a portion can be invested directly in EV infrastructure. Vermont, for example, plans to spend 15% of its $18.7 million settlement on electric vehicle charging infrastructure. The state is polling the public on how the rest should be spent. Other states are following suit to build up their EV infrastructure as well.

While beneficiaries have several years to implement plans, the initial investments may push consumers to consider buying an electric vehicle as early as this year.

Improvement of EV Options

The surge in affordable and reliable electric vehicle options in the market may also lead to increased adoption in 2018. The three options below show that EVs are beginning to achieve long-range trips at an affordable price – two of the biggest concerns with EV technology:

  • Chevrolet Bolt EV:
    • 2018 will be the first full year this very popular vehicle is available.
    • Range: 238 miles
    • Price: Starts at $37,495
  • Tesla Model 3:
    • The Tesla Model 3 may become more widely available in 2018 following production challenges in 2017.
    • Range: 220 miles
    • Price: Starts at $35,000
  • Nissan LEAF:
    • Range: 107 miles
    • Price: Starts at $30,680

How Regions Can Participate in the 2018 EV Opportunity

The convening of these factors in 2018 marks an exciting year for AFVs. As EVs become more affordable and can travel longer distances, we are likely to see a growing shift in their use.

To help make these options available to public fleets, NARC’s Fleets for the Future project has been working to consolidate bulk purchases for public fleets nationwide. The project team is also closely following the tides of AFV procurement, looking for ways regions can capitalize on the EV movement. For example, many regions will be looking to invest in many emission-reducing vehicles, ranging from EV sedans to propane school buses over the next year. Fleets for the Future will play an important role in reducing costs on these vehicles to help more public agencies transition to AFVs in 2018.

How Does This Impact Regional Planning?

The need for planning for charging stations and AFV corridors will certainly create demand for metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), regional councils, and their members. This shift will impact gas tax revenues for states and will also increase the need for pilot programs on user fees and vehicle miles traveled (VMT) tax to help solve funding issues at the regional, state, and federal levels.

These regional impacts may also depend on the Trump administration’s infrastructure plan. While there are not many details available, the package may change the market and could have specific provisions that dictate how much the EV market expands.

NARC and its Fleets for the Future project team will keep you updated on these factors converging in the new year. We will be watching with anticipation to see if 2018 is the year of the EV.

To Sell or Not to Sell? Small Local Governments Look at Privatizing their Public Water Systems

According to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates, the United States needs over $600 billion for water infrastructure improvements over the next 20 years. The American Society of Civil Engineers has given the United States a “D” grade on their Drinking Water Infrastructure Report Card, citing the older age of many of the country’s pipelines, the large number of water main breaks, and the likelihood of contamination, especially in smaller water systems.

On Monday The Washington Post highlighted that the idea of water privatization has left small and mid-size communities, many of which are already struggling with budget deficits, with a tough choice. Should these local governments continue to manage and maintain their own public water systems? Or is selling their water system to a private corporation a more reasonable option?

Federal Funding or Lack Thereof

It is unclear how much help towns will receive from the federal government for water infrastructure projects. On the campaign trail, Donald Trump promised “crystal clear, crystal clean” drinking water, and his administration included water infrastructure in their 10-year, $1 trillion infrastructure promise. What is not clear is how much of the $1 trillion will be allocated for water infrastructure, particularly when it will be competing with highly-visible projects that improve roads, bridges, tunnels, and railroads. The administration also proposed budget cuts that eliminate a nearly $500 million Water and Wastewater loan and grant program that helps rural communities, along with a slew of EPA programs that would cripple or eliminate water cleanup initiatives.

State Revolving Funds

Another consideration are State Revolving Funds, which were recently increased by less than half a percent. These funds allow states to fund a variety of water infrastructure and water quality projects. With all of the work that’s needed to carry out projects such as wastewater treatment, storm water, and water reuse, the State Revolving Funds budget (which is the lowest it has been in real terms since 1997) will not be able to meet the needs of local government water projects. And rural communities may find themselves without funding. This will leave states and local governments with most of the project bills. This is why the idea of selling public water systems has been so appealing for smaller towns and cities.

Several states have passed legislation that allows towns to sell their water systems at “fair market value” rather than current value, passing the costs of repairs, maintenance, and billing to the new owner. It’s no wonder that 48 water and sewer facilities were purchased in 2015, 53 in 2016, and 23 so far in 2017.

Early Adoption by the Numbers

The pros to selling public water systems may be apparent, but cities that have sold off their water systems might advise otherwise. For example, water service rates can skyrocket as the costs of maintenance and repair are passed to consumers by the private company that purchased the public water system. The New York Times analyzed three recent long-term water or sewer services contracts, and all three cities experienced rate increases that rose more quickly than comparable towns. For one of those cities, Santa Paula, California, the water service rates doubled. In another report published by the Public Citizen think tank, Pekin, Illinois experienced a rate increase of 204% over the 18 years since its water system was privatized. The Food and Water Watch group also reported that privately owned water systems cost the average household 59% more than homes that get their water from public systems. These rate increases can severely impact low-income households that struggle to pay utility bills at current rates.

Since water companies respond to shareholders rather than public needs, many complain about a lower quality of service. Other potential risks reported by the Pacific Institute include cherry-picking service areas, negative impacts on ecosystems and downstream water users, lack of incentive for water conservation, and ignoring the need to confront the long-term health problems associated with exposure to low levels of certain pollutants.

Legal Considerations

Nor is it easy for local governments to buy back their water systems. There are multiple examples of towns that had to fight in court to regain control of the local water system. Even if small cities and towns do win, it ends up being very costly. Mooresville, Indiana took American Water to court to buy back its system, but the court-approved price of $20.3 million was entirely too much for the small town to pay. Their water system remains privately owned. Fort Wayne, Indiana paid a whopping $67 million to get their water system back after a long 13-year process. Missoula, Montana won its legal battle, but is now faced with a $88.6 million bill and exorbitant legal fees.

When it comes to selling public water systems to private companies, local governments should weigh heavily their options. On the plus side, water privatization can seem like a saving grace for communities that are struggling with the cost to maintain their water infrastructure and are facing large budget deficits. Issues of increased water service hikes, service quality, and potentially costly buybacks are significant downsides to these deals. Regardless of the decision a local government chooses, they should first assess all the short-term and long-term impacts on their community.

The President’s Skinny Budget: What’s It All About?

The President Proposes

On March 16, the president offered his “skinny budget.” Nicknamed “skinny” by the White House, the March 16 budget was released to offer an overview of the budget the president will finally submit to Congress in late April.

Unfortunately, this budget does not present a very pretty picture. If adopted it would decimate many federal programs that are critical to the ongoing activities of most regional councils. It would also decimate many federal programs that are critical to the health and well-being of lower income and poor Americans.

Now, most of us are familiar with the programs proposed for elimination that have received wide coverage like Meals on Wheels, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Endowment for the Arts. We have also heard that the budget, if adopted, would do significant harm to a wide range of programs. But what we have heard very little about is the impact this budget will have on cities, counties, and regional councils.

This blog will provide information on programs slated for elimination and what that may mean for cities, counties, and regional councils. To this end I will offer some macro- and micro-level impacts – impacts that will be felt across the board and locally – to explain why this budget is ultimately bad for cities and counties and the people who live there, as well as the regional councils that address the governmental and human needs of the regions they serve.

Some Likely Macro Impacts

A survey of 285 economists released earlier this month by the National Association for Business Economics shows that they believe the president’s tax plan and spending proposals will add to the national debt and widen the federal budget deficit. Such an outcome could result in higher interest rates and slower economic growth. Higher interest rates would make it more costly for cities and counties to borrow, reducing the likelihood that cities and counties will make major capital investments.

Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, are in disagreement over the president’s budget. One theme that has emerged is that the proposed cuts could place in danger millions of working class and lower income Americans who need programs like the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to heat their homes, weatherization to make their homes more energy efficient, or the Social Services Block Grant to fund important and necessary programs for seniors. Cuts of these sorts are likely to place the burden on cities and counties to provide these services and meet these needs, thereby forcing local governments to redirect their spending toward activities the federal government traditionally supported.

Long-Term Questions

There are long-term questions that must be answered as well. What would these cuts mean in the long run for the agencies, local governments, and regions that often depend on federal grants? Would the federal government be able to continue to play the role that it has in the past if it is no longer able to carry out the functions it is mandated to perform? And how would this impact local governments and regions? Would states and localities be forced to raise their taxes in order to meet their residents’ needs when the federal government abdicates that responsibility?

president's skinny budget

Federal agencies on the non-defense discretionary funds side of the ledger have already been cut to the bone. As the chart shows, since 2011 when the Budget Control Act was adopted, funding for every non-defense discretionary federal agency has been reduced, some by as much as 15 to 30 percent. We know that these cuts have already had a substantial impact on cities, counties, and regions. By reducing the amount of federal assistance available, the responsibility was transferred to local governments and regions. Under the president’s budget additional cuts would be enacted for fiscal year 2018 funding for every federal agency – that would result in a loss of up to 40 or 50 percent of the funds available in 2011.

Many of the grants that cities, counties, and regions have come to rely on would evaporate; local governments could be forced to raise taxes or turn to their states to fund what were once federal initiatives; and the federal government could literally be forced to abdicate its mandated functions and responsibilities.

House Appropriations Committee chair Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), who has expressed his opposition to the president’s budget, has said that each federal department or agency has been charged by Congress to carry out certain functions. It is Congress’ responsibility to fund those departments and agencies so that they can do the job we instructed them to do. He also noted that “we’ve reduced our discretionary spending over the last seven to eight years an incredible amount,” and added that many of the programs slated to be cut or eliminated “keep America open for business.”

Individual Programs Up for Elimination

Of significant concern, of course, are the individual programs funded through the various agencies and department that cities, counties, and regions benefit from.

Transportation and Housing and Urban Development appropriations stand out as two of the most problematic for regional councils given the work that they do. Both departments would sustain significant overall cuts (13 and 15 percent, respectively), and face the elimination of several important programs.

Transportation programs that would be eliminated include TIGER Discretionary Grants, Essential Air Services, Transportation Security Administration grants to states and localities, and federal support for Amtrak’s long distance train services.

Housing and Urban Development programs that would be eliminated include the Community Development Block Grant, HOME Investment Partnerships Program, Choice Neighborhoods, and Self-Help Homeownership Program.

The Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, however, are not alone. Altogether, 20 independent agencies and 42 programs would be eliminated, including numerous human services programs.

For example, the Department of Health and Human Services would be cut by 23 percent, and LIHEAP and the Community Services Block Grant would be eliminated altogether. The Labor Department would be cut by 21 percent and programs that would be eliminated include the Senior Community Service Employment Program and possibly the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which the “skinny” budget does not address but has been slated for elimination by such organizations as the Heritage Foundation.

The Commerce Department would be cut by 16 percent and with those cuts would come the elimination of the Economic Development Administration and other business programs. The Department of Agriculture, which would be cut by 29 percent, would see the elimination of the Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant Program and the Rural Business and Cooperative Service’s discretionary programs.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s appropriation would be cut by 31 percent, and programs that would be cut substantially or eliminated include Superfund, categorical grant funds to states and localities, funding for regional water programs, geographically-based funding, restoration initiatives, climate change programs, and 50 other programs.

Finally, the Department of Energy would see the smallest cuts among non-defense discretionary programs at only 5.6 percent. Nonetheless, weatherization programs, programs to support advanced technology vehicles, and loans to local governments to support the use of new energy technology would be eliminated.

So Where Does This Leave Us? 

There is never certainty in Washington. As I write this blog, it appears increasingly unlikely that the American Health Care Act  will pass the House on Thursday, March 23. And yet at the last minute, enough members of Congress could be influenced to make the impossible possible. This lack of certainty makes it so difficult to know if the congressional majority will ultimately adopt the proposed budget. Some in the House and Senate have called it dead on arrival, while others have embraced the proposal and called for its adoption. But as one economist told NPR a few weeks ago, Donald Trump is the “master of the deal.” What he may be doing is simply going for the extreme with the full knowledge that the final budget will fall somewhere in the middle and be far better than anything he could have expected had he been more moderate from the start.

The author would like to thank the National Association of Counties and the Coalition for Human Needs for much of the information that appears in this blog, and the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities for the graph which appears above.

The Trump Administration’s Budget Blueprint: The Regional Impact

Today President Trump unveiled his first federal budget blueprint, which calls upon Congress to make dramatic changes to the shape, if not the size, of the federal government. The plan calls for deep cuts at some departments and agencies while significantly increasing funding at others.

At the core of the proposal is a $54 billion increase in defense spending, $2.6 billion for a border wall, and $1.4 billion for school choice provisions. These increases are fully offset by significant cuts to the non-defense discretionary portion of the budget, leaving entitlement spending and other mandatory spending (which makes up approximately 73% of the federal budget), unchanged.

“The defense and public safety spending increases in this Budget Blueprint are offset and paid for by finding greater savings and efficiencies across the Federal Government. Our Budget Blueprint insists on $54 billion in reductions to non-Defense programs. We are going to do more with less, and make the Government lean and accountable to the people.

“This includes deep cuts to foreign aid. It is time to prioritize the security and well-being of Americans, and to ask the rest of the world to step up and pay its fair share.

“Many other Government agencies and departments will also experience cuts. These cuts are sensible and rational. Every agency and department will be driven to achieve greater efficiency and to eliminate wasteful spending in carrying out their honorable service to the American people.”

– From America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again


The deep cuts to so many programs that each have constituencies of their own makes it likely that Congress will see this skinny budget and the full budget to follow as ‘dead on arrival.’ But it does offer important insight into the new administration and where their priorities lie, and will be taken under some consideration by the Republican majority in Congress.

The departments of Commerce, Agriculture (USDA), Energy (DOE), Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Transportation (DOT) would face major cuts if this budget were enacted. The Environmental Protection Agency would lose nearly one-third of its budget. Federal funding for 19 agencies would be terminated, including the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowments for the Arts, the Appalachian Regional Commission, and the Delta Regional Authority. As feared, the proposed budget would eliminate the $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program. What follows is a selected list of agencies and programs, and how they are treated in the budget blueprint. This is not comprehensive as details are limited at this time. NARC will continue to track these and update you as new information becomes available. Please follow the NARC website (www.narc.org) and our new blog, Regions Lead (www.regionslead.org), to keep up with the latest.

Department of Agriculture

FY2018 proposed funding level: $17.9B (-$4.7 billion, 21% decrease)

  • Eliminates Water and Wastewater loan and grant program (-$500 million)
  • Eliminates McGovern-Dole International Food for Education program (-$200 million)
  • Fully funds Food Safety and Inspection Service and wildland fire preparedness activities
  • Reduces Women, Infants, and Children nutrition assistance (-$200 million)
  • Unspecified staff reductions at USDA service center agencies around the country
  • Cuts funding for Rural Business and Cooperative Service (-$95 million)

Department of Commerce

FY2018 proposed funding level: $7.8B (-$1.5 billion, 16% decrease)

  • Eliminates the Economic Development Agency (EDA) (-$221 million)
  • Increases funding for Census Administration in anticipation of 2020 census (+$100 million)

Department of Energy

2018 Proposed Funding Levels $28 billion (-$1.7 billion, 5.6% decrease)

  • Increases National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) funding more than 11%; all other program are cut by nearly 18%
  • Increases spending for managing the nation’s nuclear stockpile by restarting licensing at Yucca (+$120 million)
  • Eliminates Weatherization Assistance Program and State Energy Program
  • Cuts Office of Science funding to support research at 300 universities and 10 of 17 national labs (-$900 million)
  • Focuses funding for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the Office of Nuclear Energy, the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, and the Fossil Energy Research and Development program on limited, early-stage applied energy research and development activities where the federal role is stronger (-$2.0 billion)

Department of Health and Human Services

Proposed funding level: $84.1B (-$15.1 billion, 16% decrease)

  • Cuts Office of Community Services funding (-$4.2 billion), eliminating Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and Community Services Block Grant
  • Increases funding for treatment and prevention of opioid addictions (+$500 million)

Department of Homeland Security

FY2018 proposed funding level: $44.1B (+$2.8 billion, 7% increase)

  • The proposed increase is to fund a border wall and other border-related items (+$2.6 billion); Immigration and Customs Enforcement (+$314 million); detention-related expenses (+$1.5 billion); and protection against cybersecurity threats (+$1.5 billion)
  • Eliminates or reduces state and local grant funding under FEMA, including the Pre-disaster Mitigation Program and Homeland Security Grant Program (-$667 million); institutes a local cost-match requirement for FEMA grant awards if none exists now

Department of Housing and Urban Development

FY2018 proposed funding level: $40.7B (-$6.2 billion, 13% decrease)

  • Eliminates Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program (-$3.0 billion)
    • From the blueprint: “The Federal Government has spent over $150 billion on this block grant since its inception in 1974, but the program is not well-targeted to the poorest populations and has not demonstrated results.”
  • Eliminates HOME Investment Partnerships Program and similar programs (-$1.1 billion)

Department of the Interior

2018 Proposed Funding Levels $11.6 billion (-$1.5 billion, 12% decrease)

  • Increases funding for development of energy on public lands and offshore waters and streamlines permitting processes and provides industry with access to the energy resources
  • Eliminates Land and Water Conservation Fund program
  • Eliminates Abandoned Mine Land grants that overlap with existing mandatory grants, National Heritage Areas that are more appropriately funded locally, and National Wildlife Refuge fund payments to local governments that are duplicative of other payment programs
  • Streamlines operations at National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Land Management
  • Reduces funding for certain Indian Country demonstration projects and initiatives
  • Reduces funding for new major acquisitions of Federal land (-$120 million), and redirects that to increase spending on National Park Service deferred maintenance projects. Reduces funds for other DOI construction and major maintenance programs
  • Provides full 10-year rolling average of expenditures for wildland fire suppression, which will result in a small increase in funding
  • Provides $1 billion in water resources program throughout the western United States
  • Reduces funding for counties through Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program, but keeps program in line with average funding for PILT over the past decade

Department of Justice

2018 Proposed Funding Levels $27 billion, (-$1.1 billion, 3.8 percent decrease)

  • Increases funding for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) (+$249 million)
  • Provides additional funding to hire 75 additional immigration judge teams (+$80 million); 60 additional border enforcement prosecutors and 40 deputy U.S. Marshals to combat illegal immigration; and 20 attorneys to pursue federal efforts to obtain the land and holdings necessary to secure the Southwest border and another 20 attorneys and support staff for immigration litigation assistance
  • Additional short-term detention space to hold federal detainees, including criminal aliens, parole violators, and other offenders awaiting trial or sentencing (+$171 million)
  • Funds Preventing Violence Against Law Enforcement Officer Resilience and Survivability and the Bulletproof Vest Partnership
  • Eliminates State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (-$700 million)

Department of Labor

FY2018 proposed funding level: $12.2B (-$2.6 billion, 21% decrease)

  • Eliminates the Senior Community Service Employment Program (-$434 million)
  • Eliminates OSHA training grants (-$11 million)
  • Expands Reemployment and Eligibility Assessments
  • Closes underperforming Job Corps centers
  • Decreases federal funding for job training and employment service grants, shifts responsibility of continuing programs to states & localities

Department of Transportation

FY2018 proposed funding level: $16.2B (-$2.6 billion, 13% decrease)

  • Corporatizes the Air Traffic Control (ATC) system
  • Eliminates New Starts transit funding for capital projects if a full funding grant agreement is not already in place
  • Reduces federal support for Amtrak; eliminates funding for long-distance routes, redirects savings to State-support routes and the Northeast Corridor
  • Eliminates Essential Air Service (-$175 million)
  • Eliminates TIGER grant program (-$499 million)

Army Corps of Engineers

FY2018 proposed funding level: $5.0B (-$1.0 billion, 16% decrease)

  • Changes unknown

Environmental Protection Agency

FY2018 proposed funding level: $5.7B (-$2.5 billion, 31% decrease)

  • Maintains Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program at same funding level as last year
  • Eliminates Clean Power Plan funding (-$100 million)
  • Halves funding for the Office of Research and Development (-$233 million)
  • Significantly reduces funding for the Hazardous Substance Superfund Account (-$330 million)
  • Eliminates funding for specific regional efforts such as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the Chesapeake Bay, and other geographic programs (-$427 million)
  • Eliminates more than 50 programs, including: Energy Star; Targeted Airshed Grants; the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program; and infrastructure assistance to Alaska Native Villages and the Mexico Border (-$347 million)

A Budget Mess

To say that things are a mess on Capitol Hill around the budget and appropriations process may be an understatement. Here are six reasons for the mess:

  1. Earlier this year congressional leaders committed to completing the appropriations process for fiscal year 2017 by April 28th, the date on which the current continuing resolution (CR) expires. However, senators from both parties are now expressing concern that the appropriations process is so far behind schedule that they may need to adopt another temporary funding bill in the form of a CR, something they are loathe to do.
  2. Democrats, who are deeply concerned that the president will demand that the April funding bill includes money for “the wall” between Mexico and the United States, have indicated that they are prepared to prevent such a funding bill from passing Congress, thereby shutting down the government. The ramifications of a shutdown can only be conjectured.
  3. Many economists are predicting that the president’s budget is so bad for discretionary non-defense programs that mass federal employee layoffs and a shrinking housing market and economy are likely in states with large numbers of federal employees.
  4. According to the Washington Post, the president’s budget proposal is “expected to seek a historic contraction of the federal workforce” that would “shake the federal government to its core if enacted.” Noting that this will be the first time since the drawdown following World War II that the government would execute “cuts of this magnitude,” the Post goes on to say that while funding for the military and homeland security will increase substantially, other areas such as housing, environmental programs, and research will be slashed substantially. Again, the ramifications can only be conjectured.
  5. The New York Times is reporting that some Republicans on Capitol Hill believe that the president’s budget may be going in the wrong direction by cutting “too much from already lean department accounts while leaving untouched the massive benefit programs” that have been blamed by Republicans for contributing to the nation’s deficits, and that many of the proposed cuts to foreign aid and domestic programs are a non-starter, especially in the Republican-led Senate as well as the more conservative House. It seems that they are prepared to oppose efforts to cut federal funding to non-defense discretionary programs. For example, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) told the Times that “we’ve reduced our discretionary spending over the last seven or eight years an incredible amount. Maybe some people don’t like those agencies, but it’s been pretty difficult for them to meet their mandate.”
  6. Democrats are claiming that if the president has his way, discretionary non-defense programs would be cut by anywhere from 13 to 20 percent. In simple terms, nearly one-fifth of all funding for transportation, infrastructure, housing, health, education, and economic development programs would be cut, and programs like those funded through the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, U.S. Department of Energy, and Economic Development Administration could be eliminated completely.

The question of course is where does this leave us? The answer is neither simple nor straightforward.

Presidential budgets are often dead on arrival (DOA) and summarily rejected by Congress for any number of reasons, not the least of which is that Congress has its own priorities that may differ dramatically from those of the president. But presidential budgets, regardless of party or person, set a tone for further discussions and are often incorporated into Congress’ plans, even when congressional leadership announces that the budget is DOA.

Adding to the complicated environment on Capitol Hill is that the majority party is very divided, with many wanting to see more cuts to domestic discretionary programs coupled with a substantial increase in military spending and significant tax cuts. Others are calling for caution, arguing that many of the domestic programs slated for slashing are critical to the nation’s economic growth and safety.

But here is the bottom line. If these cuts do come to fruition – if education, job growth, housing, community and economic development, environmental, and aging programs are cut to the extent the president wants and Democrats predict – we will see, without a doubt, a significant reduction in programs designed to support economic development, help businesses and industry obtain well-trained staff, protect seniors, provide safe and secure communities, support affordable housing, address homelessness, and so on. Regional councils across the nation are likely to see substantial reductions in the federal funds they receive necessitating either additional funding from their states and localities or a significant reduction in the services they provide for their regions. And the larger impact on our economy may be more far reaching than anyone, including the president, could have anticipated.

Tomorrow the president’s “skinny” budget will be released. At that point, we will have a clearer idea of what he wants, what Congress is willing to accept, and how far Democrats may go to defend non-defense discretionary programs. And of course, we will have more to share with you.

By Neil E. Bomberg, NARC senior policy advisor

Budget and Appropriations: Where Do We Go From Here?

As the Senate and House move to finalize fiscal year (FY) 2017 funding for the federal government, it is becoming increasingly clear that three obstacles – two pieces of legislation and an on-going congressional investigation – stand in the way of a rapid and conclusive FY2017 funding bill.

The current continuing resolution (CR) expires on April 28, at which point a new CR or other funding bill must be passed to avoid a government shutdown. While April 28 may seem like a long way off and plenty of time for Congress to complete the appropriations process, the reality is that Congress will only be in session for 26 legislative days before the CR expires and funding for the federal government runs out. Additionally, most of the work has to be completed in March because Congress will recess for two weeks in April for the Easter and Passover holidays. As if these limitations were not enough, Congress must deal with two pieces of legislation and an on-going congressional investigation that may substantially slow the legislative process.

The first obstacle to rapid completion of the appropriations process is the defense appropriations bill. It is a must pass appropriations bill and a priority for many members of Congress. The outcome of this bill will set the tone for the rest of the debate around funding, which is why there is little-to-no work being done on other appropriations bills.

The second obstacle is the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which House leaders introduced this past Monday, March 6. Designed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – often referred to as Obamacare – House and Senate leaders have indicated that they want this bill passed and on the president’s desk before the April recess.

The third obstacle is the on-going turmoil around alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The outcome of each of these obstacles will have a tremendous impact on non-defense discretionary program funding.

Why do they matter? 

The calendar matters because there is actually very little time to resolve all of the outstanding appropriations issues.

The defense appropriations bill that Congress will pass and the president will sign will matter greatly. Under current budget rules, there must always be parity between defense and non-defense discretionary programs. That means for every dollar increase or decrease in funding for either half of the discretionary pot, there must also be an equal increase or decrease on the other side. But Congress could change that and permit defense discretionary funding to increase so long as there is an opposite reaction in non-defense discretionary funding. In other words, Congress may choose to pay for an increase in defense spending with a decrease in non-defense discretionary funding. And even if this does not happen this year, there is clear evidence that it will happen with the FY2018 budget when the majority is expected to increase defense discretionary spending by $54 billion. According to appropriations committee staff, that kind of an increase in defense spending could result in a 13 to 20 percent cut in non-defense discretionary funding, cuts that on a program-by-program basis could even be more.

The AHCA matters greatly, as well. The effort to repeal and replace the ACA may prove much more difficult than originally expected. Already, several senators and many House members have expressed significant reservations about the bill, which was just released on Monday, March 2. If that happens, efforts to pass the AHCA may eat up a significant amount of legislative time, leaving little time for either chamber to address appropriations issues. More importantly, public opinion of Congress is likely to diminish if it cannot complete the work leadership has been promising to do for eight years, and further loss of public support would severely hamper Congress’s ability to adopt other legislation.

Investigation into alleged collusion between the Russian government and the White House also matters. It has become an albatross around the necks of the Administration and Congress, and the way this issue plays out over the next weeks and months will determine the political clout that the president will have in his dealings with Congress. The more clout he has, the easier it will be to push through his legislative agenda that includes a substantial increase in defense funding.

Of course, all of this is speculation. Congress could find a way to get its work done and pass the appropriations and other bills. The Russian albatross could vanish. Agreements around funding could emerge and help prevent the kinds of cuts that we are anticipating. But if the past is prologue, Congress will not be able to do its job and will only pass an appropriations bill in the form of a continuing resolution or omnibus appropriations bill at the very last minute, without significant input from the public, the minority party, or public interest groups like NARC.

By Neil E. Bomberg, NARC senior policy advisor

Next week:  What can we expect in the president’s “skinny” budget and what does that mean for programs important to regional councils?

Climate Resilience and Planning Peer Exchange Report: ARC

On October 4-5, 2016 the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) co-hosted a climate resilience and planning peer exchange with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Staff from several MPOs, state DOTs, and public and private organizations gathered together to share best practices for climate resilience. Staff also provided guidance to FHWA on what resources would be helpful in addressing climate risks to fulfill the FAST Act requirements for integrating resilience into the planning process. FHWA’s report on this peer exchange includes summaries of the presentations, discussion take-aways, and FHWA next steps. Other MPOs who participated include Broward MPO, Hillsborough County MPO, North Central Texas Council of Governments, and Puget Sound Regional Council.

Fleets for the Future Website and Best Practices

The Fleets for the Future (F4F) project, led by NARC and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Clean Cities Program, has recently released four extensive best practices documents on alternative fuel vehicle (AFV) procurement. The guides, which are available on the new Fleets for the Future website, cover gaseous fuel and electric vehicle procurement, fleet transition planning for AFVs, and financing strategies for AFV procurement.

F4F seeks to achieve nationwide economies of scale for AFVs through aggregated procurement initiatives. Following the kickoff of the five regional procurements led by the regional council team members, a national procurement initiative will be spearheaded by the Mid-America Regional Council with support from NARC and several Clean Cities from around the country. The F4F national procurement will include a public and private fleet component with a national bid process and promotion of national AFV contracts. Visit the new website to learn more the program and download the best practices guides.272