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Congress hits homestretch to face key urban issues.

Congress returns in the wake of Hurricane Andrew for its final days this week with nearly every priority of the nation's cities and towns at stake. Less than a month remains before the 102nd Congress adjourns. The first issue Congress is likely to consider is a special emergency aid bill for storm victims in Florida and Louisiana.

Despite commitments from the administration and Congress in the wake of the civil disturbances in Los Angeles, no comprehensive measure has been proposed. The House has passed an urban aid bill; a Senate version is pending. But the House and Senate have each passed slightly different versions of one of the administration's highest priorities - a massive, $24 billion Russian bailout. That measure is set to go to a House-Senate conference to work out the differences this month. For the nation's municipal leaders, key issues of budget priorities, drugs and crime, mandates, housing and community development, expired municipal tax priorities, control of cable monopolies, families and children, and environmental programs all remain unresolved.

The Senate expects to resume action on its version of the Urban Aid bill bill, HR 11, next week, but it still faces up to 150 amendments. Unless some agreement can be worked out to limit debate on the bill, it could sink under other must-do funding bills the Senate must act on by October 1st. Key municipal authority to issue municipal tax exempt mortgage revenue and small issue industrial development bonds (idbs) expired on June 30th.

Congress must complete action on all 13 appropriations bills by October 1, after the current year and federal funding expires. The House has passed and sent to the Senate the key municipal bills, the HUD and Transportation Appropriations bills. Neither is ready yet to go to the White House.

Following is the status of other key municipal priorities:

Drugs & Crime

Anti-drug and crime legislation, a critical issue to every community, remains stalled in the Senate after nearly a year in the face of White House objections. The outlook for any direct anti-drug assistance or federal legislation to control violent weapons on city streets is dim.

Mandates

While a number of members of Congress have proposed anti-mandate bills, there has been no action, nor any likelihood of positive action on comprehensive legislation to compensate cities for unfunded federal mandates. City leaders did score a major victory in overturning a proposed mandate when first the House and then the Senate rejected a proposal to require every local government to provide a property tax information report to every local taxpayers and the IRS. The administration issued regulations last month in an effort to help reduce the cost of Fair Labor Standards mandates. But cities and towns face a $1 trillion EPA stormwater mandate on October 1 unless the administration and Congress act before that date. The House and Senate are both working on bills which would impose new, unfunded mandates on lead removal, as well as bills to impose OSHA unfunded mandates on all localities. A group of Senators has been negotiating a package of mandate reductions on stormwater and drinking water as part of the 1993 HUD-EPA funding bill - but those negotiations broke down before the Senate recessed.

Housing and Community Development

On an overwhelming, bipartisan basis, the House and Senate have rejected administration proposals to make severe cuts in Community Development Block Grant(CDBG) and HOME state and local housing block grant funding, and to preempt local land use and zoning authority. The House has passed NLC-supported legislation, HR 5334, to reauthorize the nation's expiring housing and community development laws; the Senate must overcome objections in order to take up its version this month. The House has also passed its version of the 1993 HUD-EPA funding bill, which includes more than a ten percent increase in the CDBG program. The Senate expects to consider its version shortly, which also includes a major increase in CDBG.

Tax and Municipal Bonds

President Bush vetoed legislation in April to extend expiring municipal tax priorities - municipal mortgage revenue and small issue industrial development bonds, and the low income and targeted jobs tax credit programs - and to create urban enterprise zones. After the civil disturbances in Los Angeles, the House passed a revised tax bill, including not only permanent extenders of the priority municipal programs, but also $5 billion in enterprise zone tax credits and direct assistance to the nation's most severely distressed cities and towns. Municipal authority to issue mortgage revenue and small issue idbs expired, along with the tax credits, on June 30th. The Senate recessed in the middle of consideration of its version of the tax or Urban Aid bill, HR 11, after adopting an amendment to provide $5.5 billion in enterprise zone tax credits to 125 cities and towns and to create a new economic development tax exempt bond program for every distressed city and town.

Cable

The House and Senate have each passed NLC-supported legislation to return more authority to cities to regulate cable TV in their communities. The bills passed by wide, bipartisan margins in both Houses. House and Senate conferees are scheduled to meet to work out differences between the two versions this month and send the final bill to the President. The White House has threatened to veto whatever agreement is reached.

Families & Children

After NLC's President and leadership met with President Bush in January, the President appointed an Urban Families Commission, which is expected to issue its report and recommendations to the nation early next year. The House passed and sent to the Senate block grant funding as part of the Urban Aid bill for distressed cities for family resource centers, Head Start, and other families and childrens' programs. The House also passed and sent to the Senate HR 3603, the Family Preservation Act, to expand welfare services and nutrition assistance for children as a means to provide resources to keep families together.

Environment & Energy

The chances of Congress reauthorizing the nation's Clean Water, Safe Drinking Water, Superfund or Resource Conservation and Recovery Acts this year are fast disappearing. The Senate has passed an amendment on an unrelated bill to limit the Superfund liability of cities that are transporters and generators of toxic waste, but that amendment faces germaneness questions in the House. The Senate has also passed legislation setting limits on trash exporting from one state to another where there are significant adverse impacts on communities. The outlook for the Senate bill is uncertain. As Congress returns, negotiations on cutting the cost of unfunded stormwater, radon, and drinking water federal regulations on cities are underway, but not resolved. Both the House and Senate have passed and sent to conference comprehensive energy legislation with differences scheduled to be worked out this month.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Shafroth, Frank
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Sep 7, 1992
Words:1122
Previous Article:Working with the public: time to build a new relationship.
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