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… Read More The National Association of Regional Councils’ 2017 Wrap-Up
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.… Read More Will Electric Vehicles Have Their Year in 2018?
Congress is back from Thanksgiving break and confronted with some significant choices, including passage of a tax bill that substantially reduces the corporate tax rate and eliminates some common individual tax deductions, like the property tax and the inheritance tax. From the outset, the goal has been to pass a tax cut bill – good or bad — before Congress breaks for the Christmas holiday. To do this House and Senate Republicans are moving at breakneck speed to get the bill to the president for his signature. This week the Senate will begin considering its version of the tax reform bill, which is wildly unpopular with the general public. The House passed its version two weeks ago, and if Senate Republican leaders have their way, their version will pass in the next week. This leaves just enough time to conference the two bills and create a single version that can… Read More Concerns Grow Over the Impacts of House and Senate Tax Bills
Now is the time to let your senators and representatives know that you oppose elimination of the SALT deduction and that they should vote against any tax proposal that would do this. Over the next weeks and months, Congress will be debating legislation to “reform” the nation’s tax system. That debate will focus on many things, including corporate taxes, inheritance tax, individual tax brackets, and charitable tax deductions, among others. But none of the debates may prove as important to states, counties, cities, and towns as the state and local tax (SALT) deduction, which allows individuals and households to deduct what they pay to states and localities in the form of income, property, and sales taxes from their federal returns. Both the House and Senate are prepared to eliminate some or all of the SALT deduction to make up for revenue losses resulting from proposed cuts to the corporate and… Read More Why the SALT Deduction Matters. Why You Should Save It.
If you watched any of the coverage for Hurricane Harvey at the end of August, you have an idea of the devastation it caused. Hundreds of images filled our television sets and computer screens, from totally submerged apartment buildings to water-filled streets that looked more like canals, not to mention the hundreds of people displaced to shelters. Some areas of Texas received more than 50 inches of rain from the storm. The Houston Chronicle reported that the hurricane broke the record for heaviest rainfall ever logged in the United States during a tropical storm, totaling 64.58 inches in Nederland, Texas. Local, state, and federal officials all agree on one thing: it will take Southeast Texas months, if not years, to fully recover. Local officials and regional councils had pivotal roles to play in the preparation and recovery efforts for Hurricane Harvey. The following sections highlight just some of the actions… Read More Texas Regional Council Preparation and Recovery Efforts for Hurricane Harvey
Although 2020 is a few years away, preparations are already in full swing for the next Census. The groundwork that the U.S. Census Bureau is laying out today will affect the accuracy of the 2020 Census across the country. The Census Bureau is up against a significant accuracy issue: past Census reports have historically undercounted certain populations in the United States. These groups include young children, minorities, and low-income communities. The Census Bureau is once again concerned about this problem occurring in the next decennial Census count. Why is this significant for NARC members? The George Washington Institute of Policy reports that there are several hundred federal financial assistance programs and sixteen large federal programs that rely on Census data to disperse funds to states and local areas. These programs include funding for housing, health care, transportation, education, and food assistance that your communities rely on. The Census count also… Read More Making the Census Count: How Regions Can Help
Two weeks ago, the Trump Administration issued a statement that directed the executive branch to “use all appropriate emergency and other authorities to respond to the crisis caused by the opioid epidemic.” This declaration couldn’t have come any sooner. The National Center for Health Statistics reported that in the third quarter of 2016, overdose deaths reached a record-breaking 19.9 people per 100,000. If this trend continues, our localities will need all the help the federal government can offer to battle this growing epidemic. How bad is the opioid epidemic? While education on the opioid crisis is getting better in the U.S., the crisis itself is still quite severe and doesn’t show significant signs of slowing. The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) data shows a sharp increase in overdose deaths in the first nine months of 2016. In 2015, the last full year of data available, the Centers for Disease… Read More The Opioid Crisis Was Declared a National Emergency: Here’s How Local Governments Can Help
Senators and representatives may be home for recess, but the issues they left in Washington will be here when they return on September 5. Not only will the issues be here, but the urgency to address them will have increased significantly. Top issues that await them include: the adoption of a federal budget, 12 appropriations bills, legislation to raise the debt ceiling, and tax reform. It is also possible that health care legislation may come up for consideration again. This is why NARC felt it was important to host a conference call last Wednesday on the current status of the federal budget with Deborah Cox, legislative director at the National Association of Counties (NACo); Michael Wallace, program director of federal advocacy at the National League of Cities (NLC); and NARC staff. We wanted to provide you, our members, with an update on where these urgent issues stand so that you… Read More NARC Federal Budget Call Recap: Where We Are Now and What to Expect in the Fall
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… Read More Implications of Southeast Michigan’s 2045 Forecast
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… Read More To Sell or Not to Sell? Small Local Governments Look at Privatizing their Public Water Systems
It’s stuck because neither the House nor Senate has passed a budget plan that outlines spending for fiscal year (FY) 2018. Why is it stuck? Because the majorities in both chambers cannot agree on how much to spend on defense and non-defense programs. Moderate Republicans are concerned that a budget plan similar to the ones proposed by the president or the House speaker would make it very difficult for the House or Senate to maintain spending at current levels, let alone increase spending where consensus to increase spending existed. Conservative Republicans are pushing hard to substantially reduce spending for non-defense discretionary programs and substantially increase spending for defense discretionary programs, and want to break down the current spending caps that ensure that whatever gains or losses in spending occur are equally shared by defense and non-defense programs. What does this mean? It means that as we get closer to the… Read More The Federal Budget and Appropriations Process: in Limbo
On Tuesday, June 27, 2017, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (Labor/H) held a hearing at which the current Labor secretary, R. Alexander Acosta, testified on the president’s budget and other matters. While the conversation often strayed in various directions, including worker safety, foreign workers, public safety, and worker layoffs, it ultimately returned to jobs, and the clear belief by most members of the subcommittee that putting Americans to work requires a robust and effective workforce development system. For members of the subcommittee it did not matter whether these unemployed or underemployed workers were coal miners from West Virginia, young black men from Chicago, or workers who lost their jobs because of outsourcing. Ultimately, the conversation always came back to the need for and the importance of jobs, job training and job placement programs. Chairman Roy Blunt (R-MO) opened the hearing by bemoaning the… Read More Where Do Job Programs Stand in the Face of Potential Labor Department Cuts?
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
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?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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?
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
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
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
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?
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?
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.
President Donald Trump ordered government agencies to propose repealing two regulations for each new one they issue. Agencies will propose regulations to repeal when they write new ones, and the White House will approve them. Administration officials say that the military and regulations related to national security will be exempt from the executive action.
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.
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
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.
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.