Coles Calls for National Rail Policy to Shape Urban Development
Washington, DC -- Conference President and Boise Mayor H. Brent Coles told a Senate panel reviewing pending tax incentives for open space preservation that "We call on our leaders to develop a national rail policy that will help us preserve open space."
Coles outlined the Conference's top priorities for using the Tax Code to support local efforts to preserve open space and grow smarter. "We strongly support your legislation, the 'Community Open Space Bonds act of 1999', S. 1558," Coles told the panel members. He also added that these tax credit-backed bonds will "help communities preserve open space, build parks, improve water quality and cleanup brownfields."
Praising S. 1558, which was introduced by Senators Hatch and Max Baucus (MT), Coles said, "It will make a difference in my home city, for my families." The legislation is modeled after the Administration's 'Better America Bonds' initiative.
Coles recommended that the legislation be modified to allow these funds to be used for right-of-way acquisitions to support future commuter and light rail projects, noting the many rail projects now underway across the country. "There are more than 200 such rail projects in every part of the country. Of the nation's top 50 metropolitan areas, 48 of them are now planning, engineering or constructing either a new system or adding to an existing rail system. These areas are leading the way," Coles said.
Recounting his recent experience to start up commuter rail in the Boise region, Coles said, "We used property tax to buy right-of-way. We had no partner."
On the linkage between rail investment and open space, Coles said, "the mayors strongly believe that increased rail investment will make a real difference longer term in keeping more open space."
Addressing other pending tax proposals, Coles said, "I want to convey our strong support for the High Speed Rail Investment Act (S. 1900), offered by Senator Lautenberg (NJ)."
He explained how is was important to have a national rail system so that local and regional light rail and commuter projects can "link to the national system." Coles pointed out "more than 50 mayors meeting in Chicago last week made this (enactment of S. 1900) one of the priorities for this Congress."
He also cited the Conference's continuing interest in federal policies to help communities deal with their brownfields, emphasizing the importance of developing these properties as an alternative to using open space for urban development. Coles noted the pending legislation to extend and expand the brownfields 'expensing' provision that is currently available to developers that cleanup sites in selected areas of the country. "Senators Chafee (RI) and Jeffords (NH) have proposed to address expensing at brownfield sites in their legislation, S. 2334. We support this. Every city has a brownfield and could benefit from this legislation," Coles said.
In testimony, Coles conveyed the Conference's support for Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison's Commercial Revitalization Tax Credit bill, a tax proposal that would spur investment in existing neighborhoods and areas.
A full news story covering this hearing written by Conference staffer Kevin McCarty will be published in the Conference's newspaper, "U.S. Mayor", and is available online, along with full text of the testimony, at usmayors.org.