Federal Action Agenda
In 2015, NLC convened a number of highly respected city leaders to form a Presidential Election Task Force with the goal of forging a truly bipartisan campaign platform for cities. The campaign, Cities Lead, was built on a platform of three issues important to every city: public safety, infrastructure, and the economy. While there is a fair amount of uncertainty about the priorities of the Trump Administration and the 115th Congress, NLC is certain that these three issues are areas where cities and the administration can find common ground to move America forward.
With input from NLC members, NLC’s leadership selected this Federal Action Agenda to guide NLC’s advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill and with the Administration in 2017. The agenda emphasizes the connected nature of federal action and local economic efforts and provides a framework to empower cities to address the challenges we face and move our nation forward.
Public safety is crucial to building strong, safe communities and creating an economy that works for all residents. Cities and towns annually spend more than $64 billion on law enforcement operations alone. A majority of these funds go to employing more than 600,000 law enforcement professionals on a full-time basis.
Taken together, investments by cities and the federal government have had a clear and measurable impact in making America’s streets safer and our communities stronger. The partnership among local, state and federal governments has produced significant reductions not only in overall crime rates, but particularly in the rates of violent crime and property crime. Recent FBI statistics indicate that the national rate of violent crime today is roughly half of what it was in 1993, and it is continuing to decline.
While cities have made tremendous progress through adoption of community policing strategies for positive, proactive engagement with the public, there is much more to be done. Although crime is down nationally, in many cities across the country, crime continues to be a significant barrier to individual and family safety, quality of life, and social cohesion, particularly in racially diverse and disadvantaged neighborhoods.
A key to improving public safety and quality of life and ensuring stability for local economies is building trust between police and the public. With recent events across the nation showing the need for stronger police community relations, government must work together at all levels to bolster community oriented policing programs in cities. This will require a challenging mix of research, policy reform and political capital. In partnership with the federal government, cities are committed to evaluating police performance and taking all necessary steps to make our cities safer for all residents.
As recent events have demonstrated, good relations between police and the communities they serve are vital to a healthy city. Local leaders have played an essential role in bringing together police chiefs, frontline officers, civic leaders, stakeholders, nonprofits and associations to help develop effective policy to build trust between communities and law enforcement.
To strengthen city efforts to improve public safety, we ask the administration to:
- Expand technical assistance programs within the Department of Justice that could assist hundreds of cities and towns in developing evidenced-based community policing programs that build trust, improve community relations, and reduce racial tensions and crime rates;
- Provide sufficient funding to support coordination and cooperation between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies; and
- Take action to reduce the epidemic of gun violence that plagues our nation.
Infrastructure investment is essential to driving economic growth at all levels. Improvements in transportation, water and broadband draw new businesses and jobs to cities and their regions, while creating a better climate for current businesses to expand and add workers.
U.S. government policy plays a formative role in supporting the infrastructure that cultivates successful cities. History shows how forward thinking leadership on infrastructure at the federal level can pave the way for a strong economy. The Federal Highway Act of 1956 connected America’s cities and towns and supported the growth and success of our regional and national economies. The Clean Water Act of 1972 and the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 restored America’s waterways and ensured the availability of clean water — making America’s cities more livable and more attractive for business.
But today, it appears we have forgotten about the essential role of infrastructure investment in supporting quality of life and robust economic growth. Critical infrastructure across the nation is in a state of neglect and disrepair. 32 percent of America’s major roads are rated as being in poor or mediocre condition, and that number is only expected to grow as we continue to under invest by nearly half of what is needed to keep our roads in a state of good repair. Likewise, much of our water infrastructure was built in the post-World War II period and is in need of critical updates - an estimated 240,000 water main breaks happen each year in our country.
Furthermore, we must reexamine how federal infrastructure dollars are supporting 21st century economic trends. Since 1992, roughly 80 percent of all federal transportation funding has been reserved for the highway system, at the expense of alternative modes. In 2014, rush-hour commuters spent an estimated 6.9 billion hours in traffic, up from 6.4 billion in 2010, at significant cost to the nation. In addition, at a time in our economic history where access to information is paramount to opportunity and prosperity, our nation’s broadband system is failing many communities across the country. Around 15 percent of U.S. households—or approximately 47 million Americans do not have Internet in their homes.
Adding to these problems is the impact of extreme weather events. Heat waves, droughts, heavy downpours, floods, and hurricanes are straining existing infrastructure and introducing new challenges.
The investments our federal leaders make to strengthen and modernize our nation’s infrastructure will set the foundation for the next century of economic progress. To preserve our economic leadership in the world, the next president must make a priority addressing the woeful state of U.S. infrastructure and make the investments needed to support continued — and accelerated — growth in cities and throughout the country.
To help modernize our nation’s infrastructure, we ask the administration to:
- Act as a champion for tax-exempt municipal bonds, the primary financing mechanism for state and local infrastructure projects. Any policy to alter the tax-exempt status of these bonds will cost local governments billions of dollars and prevent many projects from going forward;
- Support adequate and reliable long-term funding for infrastructure reflecting local needs and priorities;
- Support a vibrant web of connected transportation options — from transit and air to railways, roads, and waterways — as a means to reduce congestion, protect the environment, and stimulate economic development; and
- Encourage and promote deployment of broadband networks in a competitive and technologically neutral manner, while preserving local authority to take action to ensure that residents have access to high-speed Internet and other communications services.
Cities are the engine of our nation’s economy. From roads and transit to parks and libraries, to law enforcement and emergency services, cities create the conditions that drive new business, spur innovation, and attract talent and investment.
Six years after the Great Recession, the nation’s economy has turned a corner in many respects. According to NLC’s 2015 survey of local economic conditions, the economy is improving in nearly all cities, with 28 percent of cities reporting vast improvement, and 65 percent reporting at least slight improvement.
While job growth, increasing residential property values, and improved retail sector health stabilize local economies, these rising tides have failed to lift all boats. The state of our economy today is a tale of two cities. We see an economy that continues to outpace the rest of the world in innovation, but also one that is weighed down by slow productivity growth, suppressed wages and stubborn unemployment.
The recovery of the housing market in many cities is a double-edged sword. Rising home prices are helping to replenish local tax bases, but at the same time exacerbating the affordable housing crisis. According to the NLC 2015 survey, the median income of residents has increased in 53 percent of cities, but demand for survival services, such as food banks and homeless shelters, also has risen.
Cities work best when the economy works for everyone. A critical task facing the next president will be resolving these disparities. To start, all levels of government must work together to cultivate a skilled workforce to meet 21st century employer needs. The economic competitiveness and long-term success of our cities are directly tied to the quality and skills of the workforce.
The federal government also has a vital role to play in supporting the entrepreneurs and small businesses that make our local economies centers of innovation and economic reinvention. Entrepreneurs and small businesses not only create well-paying jobs, they deliver vital goods and services, generate sales tax revenue, and contribute to the unique character and livability of city neighborhoods.
Local leaders are in a unique position to support solutions to our nation’s complex economic challenges. Cities stand ready to work with the next president to do what cities do best: create environments that support workers, grow businesses, and strengthen local, state and national economies.
To help cities strengthen the economy, we ask the administration to:
- Increase federal funding for workforce development and training programs that provide basic skills training and opportunities to upgrade skills to adjust to changing job market demands;
- Leverage federal resources to support universal pre-K, afterschool programs and other initiatives that ensure that all children and youth have an opportunity to graduate from high school prepared for post-secondary education or employment; and
- Support federal economic development tools such as New Markets Tax Credits and the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, which allow cities to drive investment in struggling neighborhoods, attract and retain businesses, and grow jobs.