Representatives from cities around the country will descend on the District of Columbia next week to conduct more than 100 meetings on Capitol Hill, and stress areas where they can work with Congress to get things done.
More than 1,000 elected and appointed leaders from the nation's cities are expected to attend the National League of Cities' 50th Congressional City Conference, which President Barack Obama will address Monday. The conference will focus on lobbying Congress on their three main legislative priorities: modernizing transportation and infrastructure; addressing an online sales tax loophole, and defending municipal bonds. "If you look at the issues that cities are dealing with, those are the issues that the House, Senate and the White House is dealing with," NLC Executive Director Clarence Anthony told CQ Roll Call at a conference preview Friday. "If you look at where the decisions are being made, and where the rubber meets the road on all of the challenges facing America, it’s in cities.”
Anthony will attend a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., next week, along with the NLC president, Democratic Mayor Ralph Becker of Salt Lake City, and a past president of the Kentucky League of Cities, Lyndon Mayor Susan Barto. While the House is not in session next week, city leaders plan to meet with congressional staffers, and will also conduct a transportation briefing for staffers Wednesday.
"In addition to the educational and networking sessions that we’ll have on site at the [Marriott Wardman Park], we really want to use the time that city leaders are in Washington to have them go to the Hill and lobby their House and Senate members,” said Carolyn Coleman, the NLC's federal advocacy director.
Coleman laid out the three main legislative priorities for the coming year, but also said the NLC, which represents more 19,000 cities, towns and villages, is keeping its eye on the appropriations process and a myriad of other items including Homeland Security grants, water infrastructure, climate change and education legislation.
One of their top priorities is ensuring a long-term transportation bill that would authorize transportation funding for at least six years, and allow cities to make funding decisions.
“Incremental short-term extensions to an infrastructure bill such as this aren’t really good for our communities,” Coleman said. “We’re looking for a strong federal partner to do its part.”
Coleman also said the NLC will once again be advocating to close what it considers an online sales tax loophole, and allow states to collect a sales tax for purchases from out-of-state websites. Legislation known as the Marketplace Fairness Act made strides in the 113th Congress, passing the Senate, but stalled in the House . Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., took issue with a provision in the bill regarding which state's sales tax applies (whether it is where the buyer or the seller is located, for instance).
Coleman was confident Friday that their conversations with Goodlatte would continue in the 114th Congress. She also noted Senate Budget Chairman Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., is expected to reintroduce the bill next week. Enzi, a former mayor of Gillette, is among a number of former city leaders in Congress whom the NLC considers important allies.
Despite their congressional allies, and often bipartisan policies, city leaders also face a challenge of accomplishing their legislative priorities in a gridlocked Congress. But the NLC representatives stressed that they have been able to successfully lobby Congress to pass legislation in the past, such as flood insurance and workforce development bills, and this year will be no different.
“We’ve been focusing on those things that we can make happen in spite of that gridlock because what we don’t want to do is send a message to our members that nothing is happening," Anthony said. "Because they need to have things happening."
Anthony also acknowledged that cities sometimes have to get creative and solve problems Congress cannot address due to the partisan gridlock.
"We cannot wait on Washington," Anthony said. "So we are actually solving those issues that we don't think are being solved in — we're solving them on the local level because they happen to come to our front door every day."
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