Mayors Adopt Action Agenda for Post-Impeachment CongressBy Dave Gatton and Conference Staff
The leadership of the U.S. Conference of Mayors met in Key West, Florida, Feb. 18-20 to lay the groundwork for an aggressive push on federal legislation designed to continue the prominent role of cities in the nation's current economic recovery.
Conference President and Salt Lake City Mayor Deedee Corradini told her colleagues from over 30 U.S. cities that it was time for Congress to get back to business now that the impeachment trial of President Clinton was over. She called on Congress to focus in a bipartisan way on issues of continued crime reduction, the health and safety of the nation's children, public schools, and jobs for the hard-to-employ. "These are the breakfast table issues for the American people," she said, "and mayors must take a leadership position on each and every one of them."
At the center of the mayors push is an initiative by Corradini to address school violence and activities for kids between the hours of 2:00 and 8:00 p.m., when most juvenile crime, drug experimentation, and teenage pregnancies occur.
Following a U.S. Conference of Mayors summit in Salt Lake City in September of 1998, mayors adopted a national agenda calling for more after school programs for children. President Clinton responded by tripling funds for such programs in the budget he submitted to Congress. The mayors will ask Congress to fully fund the $600 million initiative.
Addressing the Mayors, HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo outlined new initiatives within the President's budget to bring new investment to underserved and poor neighborhoods whose economies have lagged behind the national economic recovery. Many of those initiatives will require congressional action, such as creation of a $1.5 billion America's Private Investment Companies initiative. APIC would be modeled after the Oversees Private Investment Corporation, which guarantees business investments in developing nations. (See story on page 7)
The mayors also agreed that increasing funding for HUD's Community Development Block Grant program would again be a high priority . The Conference, in conjunction with the National Association of Counties, will ask Congress to fund the program at $5 billion for next fiscal year. The program has grown steadily over the last several years and now stands at $4.750 billion.
Conference Vice President and Denver Mayor Wellington Webb called on the Conference to immediately convey to Congress support for the continuation of the welfare-to-work program. President Clinton has proposed in his budget a $1 billion extension for the next fiscal year. Even though welfare roles have dramatically declined, many of those remaining in the system live in cities and lack sufficient job skills, have substance abuse problems, or other difficulties in obtaining employment. (See story on page 9)
The mayors will also call on Congress to address more aggressively the methamphetamine epidemic that has engulfed many rural and medium- sized communities. Boise Mayor H. Brent Coles, who chairs the Conference's Advisory Board, proposed creation of an alliance between rural communities and cities to push Congress to help local efforts at drug enforcement and drug prevention.
The mayors agreed to request a meeting with Attorney General Janet Reno to discuss the important role cities, as first responders, must play in responding to threats of biological and chemical terrorism.
Buoyed by its success in last year's passage of TEA-21, the leadership will call on Congress to reauthorize the nation's aviation programs that will provide cities more flexibility in funding airport improvements through passenger facility charges (PFCs.) The mayors expressed concern that many markets lack competition necessary to bring lower fares to their communities.
The meeting culminated in an agreement by mayors to call for a renewed effort to fight crime through passage of a new crime bill in Congress. The mayors led the effort in the 1996 crime bill that put 100,000 community police officers on the streets and provided direct federal funding to cities that resulted in dramatic reductions in crime. The mayors told John Hart, representing the Department of Justice, that these programs must be preserved and made more flexible if communities are to continue the progress in crime reduction made over the last several years.
Below are additional summaries of items discussed at the leadership meeting.
Youth Violence Agenda Moves Forward
A number of federal actions have been taken which reflect movement on the specific recommendations contained in the National Action Plan. For example:
Mayor Corradini stressed that it will now be up to the mayors to help move these and other key initiatives through Congress.
An issue which still requires attention is the serious concern raised in the National Action Plan regarding violence in the media and entertainment industries.
Mayor Corradini has reached out to Tom Curley, Publisher and President of USA TODAY, asking him to help convene a task force of mayors and media and entertainment executives to work on the proliferation of violence to which youth are exposed. Mr. Curley participated in the recent Winter Meeting of the Conference and has expressed his support for the mayors' efforts regarding youth violence.
Youth Fitness Initiative Building Momentum in Cities
Mayor Corradini distributed a copy of a recent article she authored for the National PTA magazine on "Kids and Fitness" which states the case as to the need to instill good physical fitness values in our children.
Mayors and Counties Launch Effort on Local Parks
Major Release Planned for Second-Annual Metro Economies Report
In Key West, the mayors talked about the ways they are using this data and derived rankings of U.S. metro economies to create a new political language about how today's global economy actually works. The GMP data and rankings, prepared by Standard & Poor's DRI for the Joint Center, show that we are not a nation of state economies but of metro economies.
The issue now is how to communicate this transformational message to federal and state policymakers and to the private sector. A first step recommended by the mayors is to release the numbers on 1999 Gross Metropolitan Product on Wall Street with major national economic figures.
Mayors Stress Partnership with Bankers and Farmers on Brownfields Redevelopment
Clancey emphasized that Community Investment Officers from the Federal Home Loan Bank System (FHLB) have been meeting with 49 cities to discuss their brownfields financing needs. Mayor Clancey also noted that FHLB representatives have developed suggestions for easing impediments to banks lending at brownfield properties.
Clancey also pointed out that, at her request, Representative Jim Leach (IA), Chair of the House Banking and Financial Services Committee, addressed the task force during the Winter Meeting and expressed a willingness to work with mayors and bankers on potential solutions, including legislation.
Helmke discussed the importance of forming an urban-rural coalition where mayors and the farming community meet to discuss common goals of sustainable development, transportation investment and better utilization of resources. Helmke stated, "I think it is imperative that we sit down with the rural community and discuss common problems and joint solutions." He continued, "If we can bring together urban and rural interests, we could potentially create a very powerful message."
Brownfields Bill Must Move this Year
Bollwage reviewed the Conference's efforts during the 105th Congress to back Rep. Sherwood Boehlert's legislation to secure agreement on bipartisan Superfund reform legislation, including numerous provisions advancing brownfields redevelopment. He emphasized particularly the importance of securing liability changes for innocent third parties and a firmer commitment of federal resources in support of local brownfields efforts.
He explained the Conference's position during the 106th Congress, which had previously been set forth by Conference President Deedee Corradini at the November "Brownfields '98" Conference in Los Angeles. It calls upon Congress to give assurances that whatever legislative vehicle is used -- be it a brownfields-only bill, Superfund Lite or Comprehensive Superfund Reform -- will result in the enactment of brownfields-related provisions as expeditiously as possible.
Bollwage reiterated the need for Congressional consensus on the legislation, stating, "To get any legislation through the process, it must be bipartisan." He further explained that, "What we are asking for are fairly straightforward changes -- don't punish innocent people that are trying to reclaim these sites."
Anticipating the need for visits with key Congressional and Administration leaders in the near future, Bollwage indicated that he would be calling on other mayors for a trip to Washington to press the case for legislative action.
Support Growing for Economic Development Tax Incentives
The President's 2000 budget includes a New Market Tax Credit initiative that would generate $6 billion in new equity capital for investment in new markets in poor neighborhoods. Under the proposal, tax credits would be allocated to targeted investment vehicles such as community development banks that serve low and moderate income communities. A tax credit worth 25 percent of investment would be available to individuals who invest in these institutions. Funds generated from the investment would be used to finance a wide range of businesses in distressed communities, including small technology firms, inner-city shopping centers and retail stores. Mayor Ganim told the mayors that the Administration is in the process of developing the legislation and that Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin was interested in hearing their input on how the bill should be structured.
Mayor Ganim also discussed the Commercial Revitalization Tax Credit Act, a proposal sponsored by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX) and supported by the Conference for the last three years. This legislation would provide $1.5 billion in tax credits over a five-year period. Tax credits would be allocated to states by formula and qualifying businesses would receive a 20 percent tax credit for expenses related to new business construction, expansion or rehabilitation in designated distressed communities. The bill is expected to attract broad bipartisan support as it has in past years.
Since the Administration and Congressional leaders are supporting tax credits to stimulate growth in distressed communities, Mayor Ganim said he and other members of the Urban Economic Policy Committee are optimistic that an agreement on a final bill can be reached before the end of the session.
Better America Bonds Would Help Redevelop Brownfields
He said that EPA Administrator Carol Browner had discussed "Better America Bonds" during a session with the Energy and Environment Committee at the Winter Meeting, where the proposal was "well-received by the mayors."
The program, he explained, relies on the enactment of new tax credits to prompt businesses, investment banks, other lenders to provide $1.9 billion annually over the next five years for qualifying projects. Funds would be awarded competitively to cities, counties and states to purchase open space, redevelop brownfields, and for certain other eligibilities. McCrory pointed out that, in effect, the program will deliver no interest, no principal 15-year loans, at which time participating jurisdictions must simply pay back the principal amount.
McCrory said, "If your city is serious about brownfields redevelopment, access to this kind of resource might deliver a real jump-start to your efforts. And for us, it helps to make the connection that redeveloping brownfields is about combating sprawl."
Mayors Focus on Local Needs for New COPS Program
John Hart, Deputy Director of the COPS Office of the U.S. Department of Justice, joined the mayors for this discussion.
In opening the dialogue, Mayor Corradini said, "The Administration has assured us that mayors will be at the table as the details of the plan are developed and presented to the Hill."
John Hart outlined the five-year proposal which would provide $1.275 billion in FY 2000 for the new "21st Century Policing Initiative." Included is: 1) $600 million to hire and redeploy additional officers, including $50 million to help "economically-distressed communities" retain officers; 2) $350 million for crime-fighting technology; 3) $200 million for "community prosecutors and neighborhood district attorney's" and 4) $125 million for community-wide crime prevention including efforts to prevent school violence.
Reno Mayor Jeff Griffin, Chair of the Criminal and Social Justice Committee, stressed that while many communities have reached their limit on additional officers, there is a growing need for additional resources for the rest of the criminal justice system as a result of increasing arrest rates.
A number of mayors expressed strong support for retention funding. Mr. Hart stressed that while the Administration is supporting $50 million for this effort, Congress has traditionally resisted this support.
In addition, many mayors urged that funds be made available for overtime use related to community policing -- which is not allowed under the current law.
The Conference leadership has called for a meeting of mayors and police chiefs to continue this discussion and clearly identify city priorities for the next COPS program.
Mayors Continue Comprehensive Battle Against Drug Abuse
The Conference will convene key national leaders, along with state and local experts in law enforcement, prevention, treatment, and research, to:
Mayor King briefed the Mayors on President Clinton's new "Zero Tolerance Drug Supervision Initiative," contained in the Administration's FY 2000 budget request. The initiative, which would allocate $215 million in federal funds to promote drug testing and treatment in prisons, is in part an outgrowth of conversations between the Conference Leadership and the Department of Justice. Those conversations, which began last summer, actively promoted the Conference's policy, adopted at the Annual Meeting in Reno last June, to promote the availability of drug testing and treatment in prisons.
Mayor King also briefed the leadership on another initiative initially promoted by the Conference, the Targeted Capacity Expansion Initiative, a program of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The initiative, which provides funding for substance abuse treatment directly to communities, is funded at $110 million for FY2000, double its current funding. SAMHSA has issued requests for proposals for the current funding cycle, and will help cities and other interested applicants in submitting competitive applications.
Several concerns were voiced by mayors during the course of the discussion; chief among these was the need for greater targeting of substance abuse prevention and treatment funding and resources to local governments, which shoulder the greatest public health, law enforcement, and other costs of substance abuse. Some mayors noted, for example, that the $1.5 billion Substance Abuse Block Grant, administered by SAMHSA and distributed to states by formula, does not provide funds to cities or counties (but rather to community organizations), and requires no coordination of any sort between states and local governments.
As a result of mayors' concerns, the Conference has planned a follow-up meeting to map out a city-focused substance abuse prevention and treatment strategy that will be promoted within Congress and the Administration.
Aviation Legislation High on Congressional Agenda
Summarizing recent discussions of the Transportation and Communications Committee where he serves as a vice chair, Plusquellic said that the top priorities for the aviation bill are continuation and increased funding for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), expanded local authority to impose Passenger Facility Charges (PFCs), and spend-out of dedicated tax receipts by moving the Aviation Trust Fund off-budget or through other guaranteed spending mechanisms.
He pointed out that this year's debate on a multi-year aviation bill is likely to follow a similar course as the highway/transit legislation did in the 105th Congress, when House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Bud Shuster (PA) and others successfully committed dedicated taxes accruing to the highway and transit trust funds to program spending under "TEA-21." The aviation trust fund, he noted, has surplus revenues that need to be deployed for airport investment, particularly given continuing growth in air travel.
Plusquellic explained that the first step in the process was to get Congress to act on a six-month extension of the AIP program, which now expires March 31, to allow the release of an additional $975 million in current-year AIP funding and to provide Congress with sufficient time to deliberate on a multi-year aviation bill.
Mayor Corradini underscored the need to keep mayors advised on actions to support Chairman Shuster's efforts to advance a broad, multi-year renewal of the aviation law, with increased funding for the AIP program and increased PFC authority.