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Congress leaves town without dealing with key municipal issues.

Congress left town for nearly a month last week with no final action on any of the priorities of the nation's cities and towns. When Congress returns after Labor Day, it will have less than 17 days until its scheduled adjournment to complete action on key issues affecting every American community and every local taxpayer.

Nearly four months after the rage, frustration, and alienation in Los Angeles led to some of the most violent civil disturbances of the century, the administration and Congress have agreed to a massive, $24 billion Russian bailout (See Russian Bailout Advances), but no short term, much less long term, comprehensive response for America's communities.

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. Unless the President and Congress agree to positive action in the short time remaining, cities and towns will confront even more expensive, unfunded federal mandates, but with far less resources next year.

The Senate recessed part way through debate and action on its version of the Urban Aid bill (See related Urban Aid story)--and after agreeing to a major change to help more than 100 more cities and towns. The fate of the bill was thrown in doubt, however, by a Presidential veto threat.

Before taking up the massive tax-urban aid bill, the Senate was forced to drop action on the defense bill, which would propose the most significant changes in national security in more than a quarter of a century, after Sen. Malcolm Wallop (R-Wyo) objected to a vote to cut the federal deficit by reducing funding for Star Wars. The fate of the defense bill, which includes nearly $2 billion in economic conversion assistance to help the nation's communities adjust to the post-Cold War, is in doubt.

The decisions the President and Congress make or fail to make in September will set the course for 1993. The choices or inability to make choices will impact every community.

Budget

The highest priority of the nation's municipal leaders this year was to change the 1990 budget agreement to reflect the end of the Cold War, to reduce record federal deficits, and to redefine national security from military to economic security to all Americans.

The federal deficit will set still another new record this year--in excess of $300 billion, and is projected to be even higher next year. Earlier this year, the House and Senate refused to agree to changes to permit a portion of defense or foreign aid savings to be used for domestic priorities. But last month, the House of Representatives voted to breach the agreement and break down the agreement's firewalls between foreign aid and domestic spending by taking $400 million in foreign aid savings and using the funds to increase investment in public infrastructure. In addition, House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) successfully negotiated an agreement with the administration to use defense savings to pay for economic and community development block grant assistance to enterprise zone cities as part of the House version of the Urban Aid bill, HR 11.

Neither the transportation funding bill nor the Urban Aid bill has been completed yet, and both face continued negotiations and threatened vetoes. Without the changes proposed by the House, the federal government next year will spend more on foreign aid than reinvestment in the nation's cities and towns.

Drugs and 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 in the last two weeks 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.

Meanwhile administration efforts to reduce the cost of Fair Labor Standards mandates remain stalled, and 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.

Without major efforts by municipal leaders during the August recess, the federal government will be more likely to impose rather than reduce mandates.

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 prempt 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 is expected to take up its version next 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 is expected to take up its version next month, which also includes a major increase in CDBG. The outlook for final approval of the reauthorization legislation is good. The funding bill confronts a White House veto threat.

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.

The Senate is expected to resume debate on the tax bill when it returns in September, but the outlook is clouded by a veto threat from the White House.

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 next month and send the final bill to the President. The White House has threatened to veto the legislation.

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. The Senate version of the Urban Aid bill includes a similar provision to bolster the child welfare system. Senators Don Riegle (D-Mich.) and Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) intend to offer a Community Investment and Public Safety amendment to the Senate Urban Aid bill which would include block grant funds for community family and children programs. The efforts face a White House veto.

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 recessed, negotiations on cutting the cost of unfunded stormwater, radon, and drinking water federal regulations on cities were 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 next month.
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Article Details
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Author:Shafroth, Frank
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Aug 17, 1992
Words:1523
Previous Article:Senate starts work on urban aid tax bill.
Next Article:HUD will announce homeownership grantees.


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