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Strong vote dims veto threat: Senate pushes city priorities with funds for housing.

The Senate overwhelmingly passed and sent to conference with the House an $86.5 billion funding bill on priority municipal community development, housing, and environmental programs last week Despite White House veto threats, the 92-3 vote appeared to send a powerful, bipartisan message to the White House in support of the nation's dries and towns.

The bill is within the budget limits set by the administration, but sets very different priorities.

The bill, HR 5679, rejects the severe cuts in priority municipal housing and community development programs sought by the administration. Instead it promises a major increase in the Community Development Block Grant program (CDBG), and significantly higher funding levels for the HOME state and local housing block grant and assisted housing programs than the administration had requested.

The Senate bill includes a modest increase in funding for the EPA revolving loan fund (SRF) for federally mandated municipal wastewater construction, a cut in unfunded drinking mandates for small dries, and a delay in two EPA hazardous waste rules.

NLC President Glenda Hood urged all municipal elected officials to contact their Congressional delegation in support of prompt agreement on a conference report and contact the White House to urge the President to sign the bill:

"This strong Senate vote is a bipartisan affirmation of the quality of community development programs in each of our communities, and how valuable this federal program is. The bill makes a modest increase in helping to pay for Clean Water mandates, and, thanks to Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), it begins to reduce the cost of mandates for smaller communities.

"We owe a special thanks to Chairman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Ranking Republican Sen. Jake Garn (R-Utah), a former NLC President, for their leadership on our behalf. They demonstrated the opposite of gridlock by their teamwork. We look forward to seeing them at an early bill signing ceremony at the White House."

The bill provides federal funding for 1993 for all programs administered by the Veterans Administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Science Foundation and other government agencies.

For Cities, the bill proposes a 20 percent increase in CDBG funding from this year's level of $3.4 billion to $4.1 billion.

The House, in July, passed its version of the bill proposing an increase in CDBG funding to $4 billion, so the differences will be settled as early as this week between House and Senate conferees.

The Senate voted to maintain funding for the HOME state and local housing block grant program at the current level of $1.5 billion, nearly double the amount requested by the administration and $900 higher than the amount passed by the House. For cities, the HOME funding agreement worked out between House and Senate conferees will be a key issue.

Overall, the bill proposes more than $1.67 in housing and community development funding than the administration proposed, but proposes less in funding for other federal agencies and programs. It includes just over $1 billion for the HOPE homeownership programs, but only $430 million towards the HOPE initiatives sought by Jack Kemp.

The Senate devoted considerable time and debate to the cost of federally mandated but unfunded Safe Drinking Water regulations. Domenici proposed an amendment to freeze current testing requirements for contaminants, an amendment supported by many communities and based upon the leadership efforts of the New Mexico Municipal League.

The Senate modified Domenici's proposal, however, when it adopted a substitute offered by Sen. John Chafee (R-R.I.). The substitute would:

* delay for one year the issuance of new mandates for radon and radionuclide testing;

* provide a partial exemption from drinking water testing requirements for new contaminants scheduled to commence next January for cities under 3300; and

* require EPA to do a cost-benefit study and analysis of the implementation problems for communities of the Safe Drinking Water Act as a prerequisite to rewriting the law next year.

Under current law and regulations, cities and towns are required to test for some 36 contaminants. Beginning next January, EPA will begin to mandate testing for 26 additional contaminants, followed by nearly 50 more in subsequent years. Under the Domenici amendment, there would have been a two year moratorium on any testing for additional contaminants.
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Author:Shafroth, Frank
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Sep 14, 1992
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