President’s FY18 “A New Foundation for American Greatness” Budget Not Great for Local Governments

On Tuesday, May 23, the president introduced his first ever, full budget proposal: A New Foundation for American Greatness. If adopted into law, the budget would impose catastrophic cuts to non-defense discretionary programs (those most targeted to local programs), while dramatically increasing spending for defense-related programs. If you believe that the greatness of a nation is measured by the vitality of its communities and the well being of its citizens than this budget does not meet its goal as a new foundation for American greatness. Instead, it is a budget that will continue the “war” against communities, economically disadvantaged people, and programs that are important to local governments everywhere. Let’s begin with the big picture. If adopted, this budget would cut $54 billion from programs designed to meet human needs in fiscal year 2018, and $1.4 trillion over 10 years. These include transportation, workforce development, economic development programs, community and… Read More President’s FY18 “A New Foundation for American Greatness” Budget Not Great for Local Governments

Why Do We Need Infrastructure Week?

As we approach Infrastructure Week (May 15 through 19) – a week of education and advocacy designed to draw attention to the importance of infrastructure to our nation’s economy, jobs, and communities – we should stop for a moment and ask why? Why must we have an Infrastructure Week? Shouldn’t the wealthiest nation on the planet have the best infrastructure in the world? We should, but sadly, we don’t. Of course, anyone: trying to get safe, clean water in Flint, Michigan, driving on the roads of many cities that are bursting with potholes, using mass transit in a city like Washington, DC where investment in the subway system is insufficient, and enjoying public parks in Kansas where the difference between what is spent and what is needed is believed to be quite large …knows that something is not right. But we also know in a more informed way from many… Read More Why Do We Need Infrastructure Week?

At Long Last… A FY 2017 Omnibus Appropriations Bill

As if by magic, the House and Senate, early in the morning on Monday, May 1, came to an agreement on a $1.1 billion fiscal year (FY) omnibus appropriations bill that will fund the government through September 30, 2017. (NOTE: Specific funding amounts are included at the bottom of this blog.) The bill is expected to be adopted by Friday, May 5, when the short-term funding bill expires. If all goes as expected and the President is willing to sign the omnibus appropriations bill, the threat of a government shutdown will have again been averted. According to Bloomberg Government the omnibus appropriations bill ‘tracks with Democratic priorities and rejects most of Donald Trump’s wish list, including money to begin building a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border,’ though it does increase military spending by $15 billion and border security by $1.5 billion. However, none of the additional border security funds can… Read More At Long Last… A FY 2017 Omnibus Appropriations Bill

President’s Tax Plan Leaves Out Infrastructure

As you have no doubt heard by now, the Trump administration yesterday released a tax reform “plan” that filled just one side of a single sheet of paper. Which is to say, the plan is light on details. The “goals for tax reform” are outlined: “Grow the economy and create millions of jobs Simplify our burdensome tax code Provide tax relief to American families – especially middle-income families Lower the business tax rate from one of the highest in the world to one of the lowest” Some of the specifics include reducing the number of tax brackets, doubling the standard deduction while eliminating a number of itemized deductions (but preserving the deductibility of mortgage interest and charitable gifts), repealing the inheritance tax and alternative minimum tax, reducing the corporate rate to 15%, and switching to a territorial system of taxation for corporations. Aside from the elimination of some tax deductions,… Read More President’s Tax Plan Leaves Out Infrastructure

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

Federal Support for Job Training Programs

On April 4, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies held a hearing, Examining Federal Support for Job Training Programs. Witnesses included University of Maryland School of Public Policy Professor and Atlantic Council Senior Fellow Douglas J. Besharov, Urban Institute Fellow Dr. Demetra Smith Nightingale, and Markle Foundation CEO and President Zoe Baird. Bi-Partisanship on Capitol Hill? What may have been most striking about the hearing was the comity members exhibited throughout, the positive nature of member statements and questions, and the balanced and thoughtful perspectives that were offered by the panelists. It appeared that the committee went out of its way to invite speakers who would paint an accurate, not politicized view of job training programs.  During their brief presentations, speakers addressed a range of topics that reflected overall support for the program. Testimony on Job Training Douglas Besherov noted that the… Read More Federal Support for Job Training Programs

Budget Facts and Talking Points to Share with Congressional Leaders

The budget process is complex and filled with arcane rules and complicated precedents. Over the past seven years, Congress has passed and the president has signed a number of so-called budget control acts designed to limit overall spending and reduce the deficit and the debt. As a result, the budgeting process became even more complicated. The Budget Environment Since the Budget Control Act of 2011, various budget control acts have placed caps on spending, meaning that Congress could appropriate no more than a specific dollar amount each year. And each year, Congress is supposed to appropriate a lesser amount than the year before – to the extent feasible.  This is not always the case and sometimes Congress amends the law to allow for increases in spending. The trend, however, has been to spend less; so much less that since 2011 non-defense discretionary programs have been cut by 16 percent. These… Read More Budget Facts and Talking Points to Share with Congressional Leaders

Take Action! Tell Congress: Don’t Cut Non-Defense Discretionary Programs

Now is the time to take action. Now is the time to let Congress know that programs like the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), or the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program must not be cut. The president’s fiscal year 2018 budget, if adopted, would substantially reduce or eliminate programs important to regional councils. The upcoming congressional recess (Saturday, April 8 – Sunday, April 23) provides an excellent opportunity to meet with your congressional delegation and tell them how much the federal funds matter to cities and counties, and how difficult it would be if these programs were eliminated. Arrange meetings with your senators and representatives to educate them about your region, highlight your achievements, and show them how important federal funds are to the success of those programs. Provide them with concrete examples of the impact that potential cuts will… Read More Take Action! Tell Congress: Don’t Cut Non-Defense Discretionary Programs

The Problem with Block Grants

I know. We all like block grants. They give us the flexibility we say we need to effectively implement programs, and they come with few strings attached. Such is the case for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG); youth, adult, and dislocated programs under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA); the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG); and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to name a few. In large part we are not wrong. All 50 states and thousands of localities need flexible funding to address local issues in ways that are not hamstrung by laws, rules, and regulations; and reflect state, region, and local needs. What we often don’t get is the connection between block grants and funding cuts, and the connection is very strong. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), “overall funding for block grants targeted on low- and moderate-income people—including… Read More The Problem with Block Grants

Whispers of a Shutdown

Washington’s attention is turning to the April 28 deadline for fiscal year (FY) 2017 spending bills. Congress has barely a month to either finish its work on outstanding appropriations bills, or pass another continuing resolution (CR). The timeline is particularly challenging due to a two-week Congressional recess in April. Just three in-session weeks are available between now and the CR’s expiration. At least two issues complicate the completion or extension of this year’s spending bills. Some in Washington are starting to whisper the dreaded “s” word (shutdown). 1) Trump Administration changes to funding levels. The CR is often an extension of the previous year’s funding levels. The Trump administration, however, has proposed significant increases for military and military-related spending. This would force cuts of as much as $18 billion in the discretionary budget. These cuts would come from the remaining few months of the fiscal year, not the entire year, making the… Read More Whispers of a Shutdown

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

America’s Seniors: How Many There Are, Who They Are, and Why Budget Cuts Would Harm Them

Data recently released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Community Living (ACL) documents the continued increase in the number of older Americans. As of today, about one in every seven persons, or nearly 15 percent of the population, is an older American. Importantly: Those aged 65 and older increased by nearly ten million (a 30 percent increase) in the last decade—from 36.6 million in 2005 to 47.8 million in 2015; Those aged 85 and over are projected to triple from 6.3 million in 2015 to 14.6 million in 2040; Racial and ethnic minority populations have increased from 6.7 million in 2005 (18% of older adults) to 10.6 million in 2015 (22% of older adults); The number of Americans aged 45-64 who will reach 65 over the next two decades has increased by 15 percent; and The average life expectancy for those reaching 65 has increased… Read More America’s Seniors: How Many There Are, Who They Are, and Why Budget Cuts Would Harm Them

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 offset fully 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… Read More The Trump Administration’s Budget Blueprint: The Regional Impact

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: 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. 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.… Read More A Budget Mess

Is the Community Development Block Grant on the Chopping Block?

On Thursday, March 9, the Washington Post reported that the Trump administration is planning to eliminate all funding for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG). In response to the Post’s requests for clarification, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) said the budget document is still a work in progress. According to the Post, the budget document the newspaper obtained “appears to be part of a back-and-forth with federal budget officials,” though the Post also stated that it is “unclear whether the proposed cuts will be included in the president’s final budget proposal,” which is scheduled to be released next week. The proposed cut comes as a major surprise for at least three important reasons: First, Mr. Trump, throughout his campaign, spoke of the need to invest in America’s “inner cities,” and committed to spending $100 billion over eight years to address “inner city” problems.… Read More Is the Community Development Block Grant on the Chopping Block?

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… Read More Budget and Appropriations: Where Do We Go From Here?

NARC in the News: Route Fifty National Conference of Regions Coverage

Reporters from Route Fifty attended NARC’s National Conference of Regions this week and interviewed NARC’s Director of Transportation Programs, Erich Zimmermann, on infrastructure funding and the MPO Coordination Rule. They also attended and covered two different sessions at the conference on NARC’s Fleets for the Future grant program and infrastructure funding.

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… Read More Fleets for the Future Website and Best Practices

Beyond Traffic 2045 National Freight Strategy Framework

This USDOT document reflects on the progress made to address freight challenges and provides thoughts on the future of freight and the role of the government with regard to freight policy. The Beyond Traffic 2045 National Freight Strategy Framework includes lessons learned and synthesizes input from engaged citizens, business leaders, practitioners, operators, and planners, among others, as to what works, what does not work, and what future we should collectively work to achieve for the future freight economy.

A Final Farewell from Secretary Foxx

January 19 marked Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx’s last day in office. In his farewell message to USDOT employees, Foxx highlighted the successes of USDOT during his tenure, including securing the first long-term transportation bill in over a decade and embracing innovative technologies, such as autonomous vehicles and unmanned aircraft systems. He also highlighted the integration of his long-standing priority of using transportation policy to foster inclusivity and equality in USDOT work. Foxx closed by thanking his department for their support and stating that the future is bright for USDOT.