INSIDE WASHINGTON/Local agenda unaffected by elections
Will Republican gains in the mid-term elections affect local governments’ legislative agenda? No, according to Dallas County (Texas) Commissioner Kenneth Mayfield, president of the National Association of Counties. Local leaders will not alter their message, but, with the GOP in control of both congressional chambers, they will likely modify their lobbying strategies.
“Our agenda doesn’t really change,” Mayfield explains. “But we will use different people to lobby the committee chairs.”
Mayfield is referring specifically to chairmen of the Senate’s 17 standing and three special committees, all of whom were handed their gavels when the GOP gained control of the Senate last month. Republicans have chaired all committees in the House of Representatives since 1995, when the GOP won the majority of House seats.
(The Senate currently has 51 Republicans, 47 Democrats and one Independent; the fate of the Louisiana Senate seat will be determined in a December runoff election. Across the Capitol, the House has 228 Republicans, 204 Democrats and one independent. December runoffs will determine control of two seats — one in Colorado and one in Louisiana.)
According to local government leaders, city and county concerns are primarily non-partisan and are, therefore, unaffected by the congressional change in power. “There is no Democratic or Republican way to fix a pothole,” notes Hempstead (N.Y.) Mayor James Garner, vice president for the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Topping the list of local concerns is emergency funding to help cover costs of homeland defense measures. “Cities have had to bear the burden of all security costs since Sept. 11, ,” Garner says.
Local leaders also will watch closely to see how Congress and the White House address the tax code. The Bush Administration’s initial tax cut, passed in 2001, will sunset in 2010. Going into the new year, the Administration is likely to advocate an economic stimulus package that includes giving businesses additional tax breaks to spur investment, raising the limits of retirement savings accounts and increasing the child tax credit. Local leaders fear that the GOP will try to make the tax cuts permanent, resulting in less revenue for the federal government to redirect to cities and counties.
They are similarly fearful that congressional leaders will try to make the moratorium on Internet sales tax permanent. “Counties are losing a huge chunk of money, and more and more sales are going to the Internet,” says Jeff Arnold, deputy director of legislative affairs for the National Association of Counties. The moratorium is scheduled to expire in 2003, and it has powerful supporters, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), incoming president of the Senate Commerce Committee.
In addition to lobbying for homeland security and taxation interests, cities and counties will continue to advocate full funding for traditional domestic programs such as affordable housing, education, workforce investment, water infrastructure, Amtrak and the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century. However, they are realistic about their expectations in the face of a sluggish economy and a potential war with Iraq.
“If you are dealing with a budget deficit, a national homeland security challenge that didn’t exist before, and a considerable lengthy war in the Middle East, there just isn’t enough money for everything,” says Cameron Whitman, director of policy and federal relations for the National League of Cities. Still, Whitman says she expects local officials to lobby aggressively for crucial federal dollars.
The author is Washington correspondent for American City & County.