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Congress returns for homestretch to face key local issues.

Congress completed action on a number of key issues affecting cities and towns before adjourning for the August recess and conventions, sending them to President Clinton for signature. Congress returns tomorrow for its final month, hoping to adjourn by the first week of October. With but one month to go, the 104th Congress has completed a number of key votes on priority municipal issues (See following Vote Rating Guide beginning on page 5). The votes reflect Congress' votes on priority municipal issues, especially on unfunded federal mandates and equitable, balanced federal deficit reduction efforts. Members are almost certain to act on a few more before adjourning for the elections for the 105th Congress in November.

Congress completed and sent to the White House legislation to amend the Safe Drinking Water Act; reform, eliminate the federal guarantee of, and block grant to states welfare assistance; increase the minimum wage and improve municipal pension options; and provide for the portability of health care insurance. The spate of last-minute activity resulted in the most significant environmental mandate victory for cities in years.

After the flurry of activity, Congress recessed for the national political conventions of August. The House and Senate plan to reconvene this month for their final session, when Congress hopes to complete action on all 13 annual spending bills before the September 30 deadline. Congress might also turn to proposals to auction off spectrum--key to cities' public safety -- to finance a temporary federal gas tax cut from then through the November elections. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) has also raised the possibility of bringing up NLC-opposed takings legislation when the Senate returns. September will also be the last chance for cities to seek some relief from the retroactive legislation shutting down the ability of cities and towns to finance sports and recreation facilities.

During the Congressional recess, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued its final rules on preemption of municipal authority with regard to satellite antennae and on open video systems as part of its implementation of the new law. NLC intervention was key to modifications from the initial proposed rules. As Congress returns, Rep. George Gekas (R-Pa.), Chairman of the House Judiciary Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee, hopes to secure House action to amend the new law by proposing to preempt municipal franchise and taxing authority over the wireless cable industry. And the industry is certain to take a number of cities to federal court to attempt to gain preemption of municipal land use, zoning, franchise, and taxation authority in reliance on the new federal law.

Key Short Term Issues

In the brief time remaining in the 104th Congress, the House and Senate are likely to consider:

* the sale of broadcast spectrum to finance a temporary gas tax cut or for other purposes;

* a House-passed proposal to impose sanctions on CDBG funding for cities;

* NLC opposed takings legislation;

* legislation to preempt municipal authority to tax or collect franchise fees from the wireless cable industry;

* action on all 1997 funding bills;

* a possible amendment on municipal tax authority before Indian tribes are eligible for trust status; and

* a House proposal to protect some municipal flow control authority.

San Diego Water Distribution

San Diego has begun construction of the Miramar Storage Tank and Raw Water Connection, a key component of the city's reclaimed water distribution system. Situated in the Scripps Ranch Business Park, the tank will receive water from the North City Water Reclamation Plant and release it during peak demand periods

The tank's design will allow raw water from the Miramar Reservoir to be added into the reclaimed water distribution system to serve landscaping, golf courses and industrial uses. The facilities will include a nine-million gallon, pre-stressed concrete storage tank and off-site reclaimed water pipelines.

Details: Chuck Spinks at (619) 451-6100
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Author:Shafroth, Frank
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Sep 2, 1996
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