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NCLM 2017 Legislative Session Preview Webinar - Sign Up!

Join the League's Government Affairs staff for a legislative session preview webinar on Tuesday, Jan. 24, at 10 a.m. One day before legislators begin the formal business of the 2017 long session, hear about anticipated legislation affecting cities and towns, and learn what you can do to push the top priorities of cities and towns across the state. Click here to register for this free webinar. During the webinar, you will be able to submit questions to League staff using the webinar's chat feature. For registration questions, please contact events@nclm.org. Contact Karen Waddell, Government Affairs Coordinator, at (919) 715-0950 or kwaddell@nclm.org with any other questions.


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NCGA convenes, picks leaders, creates new local gov't committee

State legislators gathered in Raleigh on Wednesday for the ceremonial opening of the 2017-18 General Assembly -- mainly for oaths, photographs and leadership selections. Regular business will begin Jan. 25. At the time of this writing, lawmakers were still awaiting their committee assignments (though some key chairmen have been named) but have observed the slate of committees they'll populate over the next two years. A House resolution adopting the chamber's temporary rules for the 2017 regular session lists those committees and includes the creation of a second State & Local Government Committee (this one aptly named State & Local Government II). Meanwhile, the Senate has done away with its historic Ways & Means Committee -- a legislative panel known for meeting virtually never, making it a cemetery for bills referred to it. The News & Observer quoted Senate Rules Committee Chairman Bill Rabon saying he eliminated Ways & Means because "it hasn't met since sometime in the '60s."

Senator Rabon, as chairman of Senate Rules, represents one of the few legislative leadership slots named so far this session. Lawmakers on Wednesday voted to continue with House Speaker Tim Moore of Kings Mountain and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger of Eden as the heads of their respective chambers. House members also elected Rep. Sarah Stevens of Mount Airy as their speaker pro tem (a role held prior by Skip Stam, the former, longtime representative from Apex who didn't seek re-election last year). The Senate will continue with Sen. Louis Pate of Mount Olive as deputy president pro tem. Meanwhile, Speaker Moore reappointed Rep. David Lewis of Dunn as chairman of the House Rules Committee. Rep. Nelson Dollar of Cary will again chair the House Appropriations Committee while Reps. Jason Saine of Lincolnton and Bill Brawley of Matthews will remain co-chairs of the House Finance Committee. The N.C. Legislative Black Caucus has chosen Sen. Angela Bryant of Rocky Mount as its new leader. Click here for more specifics from opening day. And click here for a report on the tone of the session ahead. The General Assembly has also posted lawmakers' temporary phone numbers and room assignments. Click here for that.


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Council Members Adams, Cawley Named to NLC Committees

 
Council Members Cawley (left) and Adams

The National League of Cities (NLC) has selected two North Carolina municipal leaders for national policy committees that will work for the benefit of cities and towns across the U.S. Morrisville Town Council Member T.J. Cawley and Winston-Salem City Council Member Denise "D.D." Adams were named to the national roles by NLC President and Cleveland, Ohio, Council Member Matt Zone. Word of Council Member Adams' appointment to NLC's 2017 Finance, Administration and Intergovernmental Regulations Committee surfaced on Thursday in a press release from the City of Winston-Salem.

"Being an elected official means striving to increase my knowledge of governmental processes that allow me to continue to learn and lead better," said Council Member Adams, who also serves on the League's Board of Directors. "It's an honor to have been appointed to this important committee and I look forward to developing policy that will address the many needs and concerns of our cities small and large." The committee is responsible for developing policy positions on issues involving national economic policy, general financial assistance programs, liability insurance, intergovernmental relations, Census, municipal bonds and capital finance, municipal management, antitrust issues, citizen participation and civil rights, labor relations, Native American sovereignty and municipal authority, according to NLC.

Council Member Cawley, who has enjoyed a history of involvement in League advocacy efforts, in December was appointed to the NLC's Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Federal Advocacy Committee. In that role, he will join a committee that has the lead responsibility for developing NLC’s federal policy positions on issues involving air quality, water quality, energy policy, national wetlands policy, noise control, and solid and hazardous waste management. "I am looking forward to this opportunity with the National League of Cities to continue the advocacy efforts begun at the town and state level to safeguard our natural resources and promote a sustainable energy future for our country,"  Council Member Cawley said. NLC operates seven policy committees that help shape the organization's annual legislative agenda. Those positions form the basis for NLC's advocacy on matters of interest to municipal governments before Congress, the courts and federal agencies. Committee members are appointed to one-year terms and are eligible for re-appointment.


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League Transportation Goal Among Proposed Bills

Meeting a day before legislators returned to Raleigh for the 2017 long session, a House transportation panel recommended draft legislation on Tuesday that included a proposal to increase local input in transportation project funding decisions. That proposal would achieve a policy goal selected by League members in October. Specifically, the proposed bill would alter the current 50-50 split between the preferences of local officials and state transportation engineers to a two-thirds/one-third breakdown, with the preferences of local officials weighing more. The proposed change in weight would affect input on both regional- and division-level projects evaluated in the State Transportation Improvement Process.

The committee also recommended several other bills of interest to League members, who also prioritized a goal of increased state-level funding for infrastructure needs such as transportation. One of the proposals would establish a "Megaproject Fund" to boost funding for projects of statewide or regional significance that exceeded $200 million. One example of such a project was the $1.3 billion estimated cost to bring I-87 up to interstate standards. Under the committee's megaproject proposal, all funding decisions would be made by a workgroup comprised entirely of local officials, including a designated seat for a League representative. Another committee proposal that would increase access to transportation funding for local officials was a change to direct certain federal funds to a new state infrastructure bank, which would loan those funds to local governments.

Importantly for local officials, the committee discussion of these increased funding options stressed the importance of increased local government participation in building and maintaining the state's transportation infrastructure. To that end, the committee findings stated, "The study of revenue sources may need to expand beyond the responsibility of the State. Enlisting greater fiscal participation from county and municipal governments will help to accomplish local transportation needs. Through a combination of enacting additional revenue options to local governments and increased use of existing revenue sources, local governments will be motivated to increase financial participation."

Now that the committee recommended these draft bills, committee chairs will likely introduce them in the upcoming legislative session. Contact: Erin Wynia


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Legislative Panel Suggests Economic Incentive Changes

Meeting for the first time since April, an interim legislative panel that studies economic development issues suggested numerous changes Tuesday to the state's county tier structure and economic incentive practices. Stopping short of proposing legislation, a workgroup of 10 legislators presented ideas they worked on last fall in conjunction with the UNC Center for Competitive Economics, including suggestions to:

  • redefine the current county tier system, instead measuring the level of economic distress in each county based on tax base per capita, median household income, and average annual unemployment rate;
  • eliminate the current population-based adjustment factors for the county tier system;
  • establish numeric economic development goals on a county-by-county basis, such as the number of jobs per year the state wishes to see created in each county;
  • tie those goals to Job Development Investment Grant (JDIG) awards;
  • retool JDIG awards to direct more funds to distressed areas of the state; and
  • increase legislative involvement in making JDIG awards.

These suggested changes fit with the workgroup's desire to articulate long-term economic goals for the state. The workgroup's goals included improvements to personal incomes, employment rates, and local property tax bases. Specifically, over the next 10 years, the workgroup aspired to add $30 billion in personal income for N.C. workers, 500,000 jobs statewide, and $124 billion to the state's property tax base.

The workgroup suggestions partially met the economic development goal chosen by League members for the 2017-18 legislative biennium. That goal of city officials sought to revise the state's economic incentive system by focusing on the causes of economic distress--such as low personal incomes and depressed employment rates--as well as taking into account sub-county data when measuring the levels of economic distress. The workgroup suggestions did not delve into the mechanics of measuring economic distress in geographic areas smaller than counties. In the end, any ideas presented by the workgroup could make their way into legislation this year, or the committee could choose to continue the discussion in the next legislative interim. Contact: Erin Wynia


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Here We Grow 2017 -- Easy Resolution, Big Payoff

We're fresh into 2017 -- a time to refocus your priorities for the year ahead. How about an easy one with a great payoff? Join the League's municipal economic development promotional campaign, Here We Grow, online at herewegrownc.org. It's FREE, it's loaded up with tools you can use and it's the best way to amplify your city or town's economic development success cases and why they matter to North Carolina as a whole. How is your town investing in improvements toward job creation? How is your town working with the private sector to better the economy? You know your story better than anyone, and Here We Grow is your loudspeaker.

But it doesn't end there. Here We Grow gives you tools and templates to sharpen and share that message. Request your login today. Simply email about@herewegrownc.org, and if you're one of our member municipalities, we'll set you up. Already have a login but haven't taken advantage? It's easy to submit your story and photo and access customizable tools. (If you need inspiration, check out how Mooresville is "Wired for Competition.") North Carolina's economic strength is rooted in the diversity of its cities and towns -- a diversity that's the direct result of allowing residents to pursue their own unique visions and allowing municipalities to make investments that help create jobs and grow the economy. To preserve the local decision-making authority that has allowed cities and towns to prosper, it is crucial that we tell that story.


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Bill in Congress Scrutinizes Unfunded Mandates on Local Gov't

A bipartisan proposal has resurfaced in Congress to build new awareness of unfunded federal mandates on local government and business. H.R. 50 Unfunded Mandates Information and Transparency Act, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-5, seeks more transparency, consideration and accountability on part of the federal government before it passes costs down. "Every year Washington imposes thousands of rules on local governments and small businesses. Hidden in those rules are costly mandates that stretch state and city budgets and make it harder for businesses to hire," Representative Foxx said in a press release.

She's pushing the bill alongside Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas.

Representative Foxx's office explained that the bill would (verbatim from the press release):

  • Impose stricter and more clearly defined requirements for how and when federal agencies must disclose the cost of federal mandates
  • Ensure those who will be affected have the opportunity to weigh in on proposed mandates
  • Equip Congress and the public with tools to better determine the true cost of regulations
  • Provide an accountability mechanism to ensure the federal government and its independent regulatory agencies adhere to the provisions set forth by H.R. 50 and its predecessor, UMRA (the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995).

UMRA came about to expand public knowledge of how federal mandates impact governments and employers. But Representative Foxx said it contains loopholes allowing certain regulators to bypass public reporting requirements and encouraging other agencies to put forth regulatory proposals without publicizing them. The new bill would close those loopholes. It would also require the federal government to report how legislative adjustments to current federal grant programs might shift costs to lower governments. Representative Foxx's office provided this fact sheet for additional information.

The Winston-Salem Journal reported on the bill this week and quoted Winston-Salem City Manager Lee Garrity as saying the city "supports transparency in federal mandates that clearly show the implementation costs for local governments." Garrity added: "While in many cases the city also supports the policy and objectives of the mandate, we are always concerned about fairness and the cost impacts for citizens and businesses."

Unfunded mandates are a spotlight issue for the National League of Cities. "The federal government must recognize that unfunded mandates are detrimental to successful economic development and viability of communities throughout the nation," says the economic development section of its 2017 National Municipal Policy.


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Federal Water/Wastewater Funds Available

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this week announced a notice of funding availability for the federal Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, or WIFIA, which authorized a new avenue for funding water and wastewater infrastructure. As noted on the UNC Environmental Finance Blog, there are some strings attached, and not all projects may qualify. For one, WIFIA-aided projects cost at least $20 million for communities with populations exceeding 25,000 or at least $5 million for smaller communities. WIFIA loans can only cover up to 49 percent of the project cost. Click here for the blog post from UNC and here for EPA's WIFIA Handbook.


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EMC Disagrees with EPA on State's Impaired Waters

At meetings this week, members of the N.C. Environmental Management Commission (EMC) discussed their opposition to two recent decisions by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding the quality of the state's waters. EMC on Thursday submitted a letter to EPA that will put on record EMC's concern with the decision to add 72 waters back to North Carolina's 2016 303(d) impaired waters list. (See the write-up on EPA’s decision in last week’s LINC'ed IN). The letter reiterates EMC's confidence and support over its chosen listing methodology, which is the guidance for assessing whether a water body is impaired.

The 303(d) list is named after Section 303(d) of the federal Clean Water Act, which requires states to evaluate the health of their streams, rivers and other bodies of water every two years and list those that do not meet water quality standards. Once listed, impaired waters most often become subject to water pollution restrictions for the affected watershed, usually in the form of total maximum daily load (TMDL) limits. Local governments, as the holders of wastewater and stormwater discharge permits, bear responsibility for reducing their discharges to these waters under a TMDL, often a costly requirement that can limit economic development.

Additionally, the EMC Water Quality Committee discussed EPA's recent partial disapproval of the EMC's 2014 amendments to the state's surface water quality standards (a rulemaking process known as the "triennial review") and decided not to take any action regarding EPA's request to change those standards. The triennial review is a process mandated by the federal Clean Water Act that directs states to review their surface water quality standards every three years. A highly technical, scientific process, the review accounts for updated toxicological studies and other research regarding the aquatic health of surface waters. Those water quality standards help determine if a water body is impaired.

The League supported both the EMC's chosen listing methodology for impaired waters and its 2014 amendments to the water quality standards, and appreciates commissioners' efforts to retain their authority over these water quality decisions. (Read more background on these issues and the League's support here and here). Contact: Sarah Collins


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Gov. Cooper Adds to Cabinet, Taps Durham Legislator

Gov. Roy Cooper filled out more of his cabinet this week with familiar private- and public-sector names. On Friday, media outlets reported the new governor's appointment of Rep. Larry Hall of Durham as secretary of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, meaning Democrats from his legislative district will have to appoint a replacement. Representative Hall, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps, is the House's former Democratic leader. Governor Cooper also, according to news outlets, appointed Dr. Mandy Cohen to lead the state Department of Health and Human Services. Cohen's resume includes federal healthcare work including roles in implementing the Affordable Care Act.

Cooper earlier this week announced Tony Copeland and Machelle Sanders as secretaries of the departments of Commerce and Administration, respectively. Copeland is a partner at the Williams Mullen firm in Raleigh and is a past assistant commerce secretary. "Tony Copeland knows what makes our state such a great place to do business and how to bring more good paying jobs to North Carolina," Governor Cooper said. Sanders is vice-president of manufacturing and general manager at major pharmaceuticals company Biogen in Research Triangle Park. "Machelle Sanders has a long track record and will help us make our state government more organized, efficient and effective," said Governor Cooper. News outlets are reporting that the governor plans to complete his naming of cabinet leaders next week. Click here for news and video of these appointments.

He also named new senior staffers this week, including Jenni Owen as policy director and Stephen Bryant and Julia White as deputy chiefs of staff. Owen previously worked as director of policy engagement at the Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy. Bryant and White are longtime aides of the new governor. Click here for specifics about their new roles and about other recent hiring.


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FEMA Extends Hurricane Aid Registration Deadline

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has extended the deadline for those affected by Hurricane Matthew to apply for federal assistance. The new deadline is Jan. 23, according to the office of Gov. Roy Cooper. It's the second such extension FEMA has granted. Click here for more details.


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Grassroots Tip of the Week: Schedule Your Lobby Day!

With the General Assembly's new biennium upon us, has your town planned a visit with your new or returning state legislators? It's important that you do, and the League's grassroots team is here to help. We'll work with you to set up an individual lobby day for your city or town -- a great way to work with your legislators in addition to Town Hall Day, the League's signature advocacy event (scheduled for March 29). Scheduling your own lobby day in addition to Town Hall Day is hugely beneficial, enabling you to focus more on how your town specifically can partner with legislators to effect positive change at home. Your individual lobby day is also a great story to bring back to your local newspaper, showing how your town is engaged with state policymaking. To set up your individual lobby day, contact League grassroots team members Will Brooks or Vickie Miller.