Federal Issues

In addition to representing municipal interests on state legislation, CML is active at the federal level, and has outlined a set of legislative priorities.

CML also is a founding member of the National League of Cities. To view the National League of Cities legislative agenda, click here.

National League of Cities provides budget trackers for each fiscal year, outlining the impact the federal budget has on cities and towns. Visit the NLC website to view the Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Tracker or the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Tracker.

 

New Bill Threatens Municipal Authority on Small Cell Infrastructure

By Angelina Panettieri, National League of Cities principal associate for technology and communication

The latest chapter in the seemingly never-ending American conflict between local and federal authority is taking shape - over wireless infrastructure and broadband deployment.

The newest threat to local control comes in the form of S. 3157, the “Streamlining The Rapid Evolution And Modernization of Leading-edge Infrastructure Necessary to Enhance (STREAMLINE) Small Cell Deployment Act.” This bill, introduced by Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Brian Schatz (D-HI), promises big handouts to the wireless industry in the name of 5G deployment, while cutting municipal finances and rights-of-way management.

Wireless providers have argued for the past several years that local regulations and fees are a major obstacle to the deployment and exercise of 5G, the next generation of mobile wireless networks. STREAMLINE is a one-size-fits-all attempt to fix that problem. However, the heavy-handed nature of S. 3157 will succeed only in widening the national digital divide.

Local and state governments traditionally have negotiated with providers on the location, appearance, and size of wireless infrastructure, but this bill will severely limit the ability of cities and towns to ensure the network and infrastructure suits the neighborhood around it. Municipalities around the country have reached agreements with providers on small cell deployments to uphold community priorities on important issues such as digital inclusion, streetscape preservation, and road maintenance, but the STREAMLINE Act might incidentally put an end to that.

S. 3157 will complicate all existing efforts by state and local governments to deploy small cell infrastructure. The proposed bill offers no protection for existing agreements, and in fact, it prevents future negotiation on innovative solutions that promote the mutual interests of providers and municipalities, such as digital inclusion funds or in-kind smart-city technology payments.

Additionally, roughly half of the nation's states have passed legislation specifically addressing the deployment of small cell wireless structures, and the local governments in those states are busy implementing new ordinances to comply with those changes, as well as trying to negotiate with industry partners on deployment. This bill introduces an unnecessary, one-size-fits-all preemption of those local efforts at a time when states, cities, and providers are still trying to meet the requirements of existing law.

The STREAMLINE bill also imposes unfair and inappropriate timelines on local governments. The shot clocks proposed by S. 3157 are considerably shorter than those the federal government applied to itself in the bipartisan MOBILE NOW Act, which focused on wireless deployments on federal property. This is a clear double-standard being imposed on our nation’s cities and towns. The reduced size-per-installation of small cell infrastructure does not directly translate to the reduced procedural burden on local governments. Municipalities must still review each site individually to ensure that it meets the jurisdiction’s requirements, and this new bill does not factor in all the resource challenges states and localities face when doing so.

Cities and towns generally negotiate with providers to ensure fair compensation to taxpayers for private, profit-generating use of public property and S. 3157 breaks with this precedent by limiting the fees and rates local governments may collect. When cities are prohibited from controlling these rates, they are forced to subsidize private development, which comes at the expense of other critical local services, such as road maintenance and public safety. STREAMLINE offers no guarantee to benefit communities or consumers. While it would make it cheaper to deploy small cell infrastructure in dense urban areas and big cities, those are places where deployment was already expected to be profitable. This bill removes one of the few bargaining chips available to communities to incentivize fairness in digital development. In focusing on the race to deploy 5G in only profitable markets, the Senate bill leaves rural communities and underserved urban neighborhoods on the wrong side of the digital divide.

The National League of Cities opposes S. 3157 and any House companion bill that may be introduced, as have many state municipal leagues. The Colorado Municipal League has voiced our opposition to both Sen. Cory Gardner (click here to view letter to Sen. Gardner) and Rep. Dianna DeGette. To add your voice in opposition to this harmful legislation, send a letter to your members of Congress. For more information, contact CML Deputy Director Kevin Bommer at 303-831-6411, 866-578-0936, or kbommer@cml.org.

 

 

Infrastructure 

In January, 2018, National League of Cities launched Rebuild With Us, a national campaign dedicated to strengthening the federal-local partnership with investments in transportation, water, workforce, and broadband infrastructure. CML stands with NLC in recognizing the importance of a strong federal partner in supporting and funding infrastructure projects to promote the environmental, social, and economic development of our country while acknowledging local decision-making authority. Please read on for a message from CML Executive Director Sam Mamet concerning the Congressional infrastructure debate:

Congressional infrastructure debate underway

President Trump recently unveiled his 53-page infrastructure plan. He advocates a focus on a $1.5 trillion plan over a ten-year period involving both the interests of the states and of local governments, especially cities and towns.

Administration Proposal

At its core, the President’s plan would put forward $200 billion to stimulate the extra $1.5 trillion investment. The $200 billion will essentially come from a “repurposing” of Amtrak and transit dollars, and would be distributed in this manner:

  • $100 billion through an incentive program in which Washington would provide a small portion of a project’s cost.
  • $50 billion for rural block grants. Rural is defined below 50,000 in population.
  • $20 billion targeted for “transformative” projects.
  • $10 billion would be for a capital financing fund for federal office structures.
  • $20 billion to expand federal loan programs like TIFIA and WIFIA.

The proposal also recommends lifting a number of restrictions on the use of private activity bonds. President Trump also calls for a very aggressive timetable for speeding up federal permit reviews and lifting some regulatory restrictions to help reduce the costs of state and local projects.

The White House also wants to include changes to the help the workforce build infrastructure by expanding Pell grant eligibility beyond four-year college students among other things.

A large part of the proposal places the states, local governments, and the private sector at the forefront on how to move project financing forward. Many questions remain as to how this will be implemented. We appreciate the Administration’s opening bid, which clearly “goes big” in infrastructure.

Congressional Involvement

Congress plays the key role now. There will be dozens of committees in the House and Senate which will examine parts of this plan, as well as generate other ideas.

There is going to be a lot of “horse trading” as the Congress debates the matter. CML will be communicating often to the members of our delegation, Reps Coffman, DeGette, Buck, Lamborn, Polis, Tipton, and Perlmutter, and Sens. Bennet and Gardner.

In January, we visited with the staffs of all of the members to lay the foundation for the heavy lifting which now awaits. In mid-March, over 60 Colorado municipal leaders will be back in DC “on the Hill” lobbying the state’s House Members and Senators Bennet and Gardner. This will be part of the annual National League of Cities Conference in Washington.

Your Assistance

In the meantime, we are interested in hearing from you. In particular:

  • If you have had difficulties with federal permitting or regulations on a specific project.
  • If you have had a positive experience with a federal agency and think this is a model which could help other jurisdictions.
  • If you have one or two specific projects you would love to get in the queue for federal infrastructure funding, then provide details.
  • If you have specific thoughts on what CML ought to be advocating as all of this moves forward.

How all this will gibe with some severe cuts in domestic spending the Administration is proposing like in CDBG, EPA grants, and affordable housing is unsettling.

Finally, the impact on the federal deficit of the President’s plan, on top of that which was caused by the recently enacted federal tax reform legislation, are hugely unanswered.

Remember, all of this has a ways to go. Your input and guidance will be appreciated.

 

Close the Online Sales Tax Loophole 

For a clear understanding of the reasons it is necessary to close the online sales tax loophole, please read this guest post by Lisa Soronen, State and Local Legal Center executive director, on the Municipalities Matter blog. National League of Cities also provides a brief explainer on the harm this loophole causes to municipalities, including our members. Over the past several years, members of Congress have introduced versions of a Marketplace Fairness Act, and CML will continue to support this legislation. 

H.R. 1: The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

On December 22, 2017, President Donald Trump signed H.R. 1, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, into law.

Routefifty.com provides a rundown of some of the major provisions that have implications for state and local governments.

State and Local Tax (SALT) Deduction 

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act caps the deductions for state and local income, sales, and property taxes at $10,000. In addition to hurting municipalities, these changes will negatively impact Title 32 special districts, counties, and school districts.

For an explainer on SALT, and on the consequences of eliminating it, please watch this short video produced by Rockefeller Institute of Government.

The Historic Preservation Tax Credit, which encourages the redevelopment of historic and abandoned buildings, is modified by the bill.

Municipal Bonds 

The federal income tax exemption on municipal bonds benefits all Americans by incentivizing private individuals, mutual funds, and financial institutions to purchase the bonds, even with a lower interest rate. The lower interest rate in turn saves local governments an average of 25 to 30 percent on interest costs, allowing more funds to be directed toward critically important public infrastructure projects. CML commends Representatives Mike Coffman and Scott Tipton for being two of the 156 co-signers in a letter to the ranking members of the Ways & Means Committee supporting continued protection of municipal bonds. 

The Tax Cuts & Jobs Act does not alter the current tax exemption for municipal bonds or private activity bonds (PABs). PABs provide financing for important qualified projects and programs, such as affordable housing, economic development, hospitals, educational and cultural facilities, and much more. 

The bill eliminates the exemption for future advance refunding bonds, which are used by state and local governments to refinance debt and therefore save on borrowing costs.

Though the final tax bill has only one change to the municipal bond market, the elimination of the tax exemption for advance refunding bonds, market experts warn that it has the potential to radically transform the market, leading to lower demand for municipal bonds, greater volatility in the market, and costly alternative options to advance refundings.

CML remains committed to protecting the interest of its member municipalities and thanks local elected officials across the state for reaching out to the Colorado Congressional delegation, as well as municipal leagues across the country and the National League of Cities for their advocacy work protecting municipal interests.

 

Colorado's Congressional Delegation

Sen. Michael Bennett

Sen. Cory Gardner

Rep. Diana DeGette (1st District)

Rep. Jared Polis (2nd District)

Rep. Scott Tipton (3rd District)

Rep. Ken Buck (4th District)

Rep. Doug Lamborn (5th District)

Rep. Mike Coffman (6th District)

Rep. Ed Perlmutter (7th District)