State/Local Deductibility Among Tricky Issues in Federal Tax Reform Debate

Talks of renewed efforts to “jumpstart” proposed federal tax reforms have emerged from Washington, with House Speaker Paul Ryan encouraging efforts to develop a plan for House passage — likely as a part of budget reconciliation, meaning a lower vote threshold needed in the Senate.

From coverage in the Wall Street Journal, a political consensus – even among the majority Republicans – has been elusive in part due to the tentative proposal to eliminate tax deductibility of state and local taxes on federal returns. From the Journal coverage:

• Intra-Republican disputes threaten the GOP effort with every trade-off. Just this week, seven House Republicans from New York and New Jersey signed a letter asking the administration—and by extension, the speaker—to reconsider a plan to repeal the deduction for state and local taxes.

• To even get to tax policy, Republicans will have to pass a budget that allows them to use reconciliation, the procedural tool that enables a simple majority vote in the Senate. That will require bridging gaps between Republicans who emphasize spending cuts and those who want to spend more on the military.

For more on the state and local tax deduction, see NACo’s release: State, Local Governments Urge Congress to Preserve State and Local Tax Deduction and Tax-Exempt Municipal Bonds in Tax Reform Efforts

NACo Webinar: National Flood Insurance Program Reauthorization – What Counties Need to Know

On Monday, June 26, the National Association of Counties (NACo) will host a webinar to educate stakeholders about the potential impact of changes to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

The upcoming webinar titled “National Flood Insurance Program Reauthorization: What Counties Need to Know” will provide participants with an overview of the NFIP and how it works. Additionally, the webinar will provide an update about legislation that Congress is developing to reauthorize the program before it expires on September 30, 2017.

Monday’s webinar will feature Caitlin Berni, Vice President for Policy and Communications at Greater New Orleans, Inc., who recently testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Financial Services Committee about the potential impact of changes to the program on communities throughout the United States.

NACo encourages local leaders from communities that participate in the NFIP to register for the webinar by clicking here.

Additional information is available on the NACo website.

100 Brilliant Ideas

The National Association of Counties recently announced the winners of “100 Brilliant Ideas at Work,” an initiative of NACo President Bryan Desloge.

The 100 Brilliant Ideas illustrate the best innovations in county government, according to the National Association of Counties (NACo).

“These brilliant ideas can serve as examples for counties across the country. Though no two of America’s 3,069 counties are exactly alike, many face similar challenges and can learn from one another’s ideas and experiences,” said NACo President Bryan Desloge.

Montgomery County’s GreenFest and Prince George’s County’s LitterTRAK and PGCLitterTRAK, mobile apps for tracking progress toward cleaner and healthier waterways are featured as brilliant ideas by NACo.

NACo will recognize the winners of its brilliant ideas competition at its 2017 Annual Conference and Exposition July 21–24 in Franklin County, Ohio. Three Maryland counties have registered for the Annual Conference already. Will your county be represented?

Contact Robin Clark Eilenberg with questions about the conference, or register for the Conference with NACo.

Federal Funding for Opioid Abuse Treatment Caught in Healthcare Debate

As reported by The Hill,

Senate Republicans are considering adding funding for opioid abuse treatment to their ObamaCare repeal bill, according to senators and aides.

The move would be meant to ease concerns about the effect on opioid addiction treatment from rolling back ObamaCare’s expansion of Medicaid, which currently plays a major role in providing coverage for that treatment.

For more information, see Senate GOP considers adding opioid funding to ObamaCare repeal bill.

Rural Broadband Access, County-by-County Data

The National Association of Counties has updated their County Explorer tool with county broadband statistics.

Screenshot 2017-06-12 15.16.31
NACo’s data reveals broadband needs of Western Maryland and Eastern Shore.

The explorer maps the following information on a county-by-county basis:

For more, see the NACo County Explorer and sign up here for the monthly newsletter with the latest data and feature updates.

Hogan Chairs Chesapeake Council, Signs Resolution Calling for Funding

As reported by the Associated Press and published by US News & World Report,

Leaders of states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed have signed a resolution calling for continued federal support of the nation’s largest estuary.

The Chesapeake Executive Council signed the resolution Thursday. The council also elected Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan as its new chairman.

Hogan, a Republican, says he will remain committed to protecting the bay.

For more, see Chesapeake Bay Watershed States Call for Federal Support from US News & World Report.

NACo Releases Analysis of Potential County Impacts of the President’s FY 2018 Budget Request

On May 23, President Trump released his Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 Budget Request, laying out a $4.1 trillion spending proposal for FY 2018 and the following decade. The budget expands upon the comprehensive analysis of the president’s FY 2018 Budget Request and its potential impact on programs important to America’s counties.

NACo reports,

The budget proposes significant spending cuts, which combined with optimistic economic growth assumptions, attempt to balance the budget over the next decade. Specifically, it outlines discretionary spending levels at $1.151 trillion and mandatory spending levels at $2.943 trillion. This represents a $1.7 trillion cut in mandatory programs over 10 years and a 10 percent cut to domestic programs in 2018.

Counties are concerned with several of the president’s proposed spending cuts, which include the elimination and reduction of programs that aid counties and their residents. The proposed budget includes significant changes to the Medicaid program, converting the program to a block grant or per capita cap. Other significant proposed reductions compared to enacted FY 2017 levels include the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (30 percent) and the U.S. Departments of State (32 percent), Agriculture (21 percent), Labor (20 percent), Commerce (15 percent), Health and Human Services (16 percent), Transportation (17 percent) and Housing and Urban Development (12 percent).

In response to the president’s budget, NACo Executive Director Matthew Chase expressed his concerns with the president’s budget in a statement released May 23: “We are greatly concerned that this proposed budget essentially abdicates the federal role in the federal-state-local intergovernmental partnership that is essential to addressing our nation’s most pressing challenges. This budget, if enacted, would deal devastating blows to some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.”

For the full NACo analysis of the President’s FY 2018 Budget Request, please click here.

Prince George’s County’s LitterTRAK App Reduces Pollution, Receives National Recognition

Forty-two programs in four counties are recipients of Achievement Awards from the National Association of Counties this year in multiple categories. Prince George’s County, Maryland, receives a best-in-category award for LitterTRAK and PGCLitterTRAK – Mobile apps for tracking progress toward cleaner and healthier waterways.

A non-competitive awards program, National Association of Counties Achievement Awards judges review each application on its own merits and grant awards in 18 categories. One outstanding program from each category will be selected as the “Best of Category.”

In 2017, forty-two programs from four Maryland counties receive recognition, and Prince George’s County receives a best of category award. Best of category awards are presented at the National Association of Counties conference which will be in Columbus, Ohio this July.

From the National Association of Counties:

Prince George’s County works to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay, especially in regards to reducing pollutants that are carried by stormwater runoff into waterways. Litter is one of the most visible and persistent pollutants. Along roads and streams, it is an unsightly blemish on the landscape that not only contaminates the waterways but carries hidden pollutants that affect bay health. To help keep the local bay tributaries and communities clean and beautiful, the Prince George’s County Department of the Environment (DoE) launched its litter tracking tools LitterTRAK and PGCLitterTRAK, mobile applications built with Survey123 for ArcGIS. County residents, community organizations and businesses can use their smartphones and the LitterTRAK and PGCLitterTRAK apps to quickly report trash and debris collected by government agencies as well as individuals or groups during cleanup activities. Users are able to report such data as the number of bags of litter, types of items collected, and litter pick-up locations. ArcGIS maps and analysis of the data which is collected, analyzed and mapped using LitterTRAK and PGCLitterTRAK will be incorporated into the County’s annual progress reports to the Maryland Department of the Environment and Environmental Protection Agency on the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit. These apps facilitate NPDES reporting by providing County staff with an accurate account of real-time litter collection and mapping of litter reduction activities. Staff may use the app-derived data and generated maps to evaluate the effectiveness of litter reduction efforts and to inform allocation of resources.

In addition to Prince George’s County, Harford County, Baltimore County, and Montgomery all won multiple achievement awards this year. For a full list of awards, see the National Association of Counties.

Trump Announces Proposal To Privatize Air Traffic Control

U.S. President Donald Trump plans to focus attention on his infrastructure agenda this week – and it started with an announcement of his plan to privatize control over the air traffic control system, reports The Washington Times The move would place a new, quasi-governmental nonprofit over the system, rather than the Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees it now. From The Washington Times:

The bold move to dislodge air traffic control (ATC) from the Federal Aviation Administration and create a quasi-independent, nonprofit corporation to do the job is a fitting kickoff for Mr. Trump’s weeklong focus on his infrastructure agenda.

Like the rest of the plan, it is more government reform than spending spree and faces furious pushback form the left and the Washington establishment. …

U.S. air traffic control is the largest and most complex system of its kind in the world. As with much of America’s infrastructure, however, ATC is aging and in bad need of modernization.

“There are enormous benefits for all U.S. citizens in doing this and we are very excited about this,” said [Director of the president’s National Economic Council Gary] Cohn.

A non-government ATC, he said, will save money for passengers, upgrade the system from land-based radar to a GPS system and improve efficiency and safety.

Critics warn that privatization could risk safety and national security. They argue that this could lead to the creation of a mega company dominated by major airlines and there would be little incentive for it to support general aviation and rural airports. …

“There is money to make sure rural airports get protected,” Mr. Cohn said of the administration’s plan.

At a Rose Garden event Monday, Mr. Trump will announce a set of legislative principles for an overhaul of air traffic control that he is sending to Congress.

Mr. Trump is scheduled to deliver remarks Wednesday beside the Ohio River in Kentucky to highlight plans for long-overdue upgrades to inland waterways. He will hold listening sessions Thursday at the White House with governors and mayors, and end the week at the Department of Transportation talking about highway and railway projects.

The president’s budget proposal included $200 billion for an infrastructure program that is supposed to leverage a total public-private investment of $1 trillion over 10 years.

Central to the plan are proposals to slash regulations and streamline permits, cutting the average approval process for highway projects and other major construction from 10 years to two years or less.

Governing reported on President Trump’s infrastructure plan in its report on his proposed budget:

Trump has promised a $1 trillion investment in our nation’s infrastructure. His budget finally provides some clues as to how he’ll do that.

For starters, Trump proposes spreading $200 billion in federal investment out over 10 years, starting with $5 billion in 2018, ramping up to $50 billion by 2021 and then gradually sinking back to $5 billion.

The budget says the federal investment will be supplemented with “incentivized non-federal funding,” expedited projects and revising or eliminating cumbersome regulations. “Simply providing more federal funding for infrastructure is not the solution,” the budget reads. “Rather, we will work to fix underlying incentives, procedures and policies to spur better and more efficient infrastructure decisions and outcomes across a range of sectors, including surface transportation, airports, waterways, ports, drinking and wastewater, broadband and key federal facilities.”

The Takeaway: While the outline of infrastructure priorities is a start, most folks are worried about the overall picture. Namely, Trump’s proposed budget cuts more than $2 billion from the Department of Transportation next year.

Mass transit is also of particular concern. According to Moody’s Investors Service, transit agencies rely on federal funding for nearly half of their capital funding. Trump proposes eliminating any new grants from the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Program. The rationale: “Future investments in new transit projects would be funded by the localities that use and benefit from these localized projects,” according to the budget.

Notes of Hope In the Fight Against Opioids

The opioid epidemic continues to grow and county governments across the country grapple with what is now the number-one cause of accidental death in the United States, surpassing traffic fatalities, as described by the National Association of Counties Executive Director, Matt Chase. [Comcast Newsmakers]

The total number of drug and alcohol-related intoxication deaths in Maryland increased by more than 62% for the first three-quarters of 2016 as compared to all of 2015. [Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene]

It’s a situation that is being taken seriously at the State level, where in Maryland, the Governor has declared a state of emergency and announced special funding to fight the opioid epidemic [Conduit Street/Washington Post]

During the legislative session, the General Assembly passed a law requiring local boards of education, in collaboration with the local health departments, to hire a community action official to coordinate school-based community forums on opioid addiction. [MACo Testimony on the “Start Talking Maryland Act”]

And, just last month, the Hogan Administration launched “Before It’s Too Late,” a new web portal designed to provide resources and raise public awareness of the rapid escalation of the heroin, opioid, and fentanyl crisis in Maryland. [Conduit Street/Governor’s Office]

But it is at the local level that the opioid epidemic must be fought. For starters, of the approximate 8.5 million individuals in county jails nationwide, about 60% of them have substance abuse problems, describes Matt Chase of the National Association of Counties. [Comcast Newsmakers]

The good news is that in Maryland’s counties and Baltimore City, programs battling the front lines of the crisis are making a difference.

In Anne Arundel County’s Safe Station’s program, every county police and fire station has opened its doors 24-7 to walk-ins seeking help for drug addiction. The program reached its capacity within two weeks of its start and is connecting entrants the county’s detoxification services and putting them in touch with the Crisis Response Team. [Capital Gazette]

The Baltimore City Health Department Staying Alive Program has taught more than 17,500 drug users, drug treatment clients and providers, inmates, and corrections officers about how to prevent drug overdoses. More than 230 reversals (lives saved) have been documented. [Baltimore City Health Department]. Just this week, Baltimore officials made it easier to acquire  the overdose-reversing drug Nalaxone over the counter, saying the antidote should be as prevalent as possible to prevent more deaths. [The Washington Times]

In  Carroll, Calvert, Cecil, Frederick, Howard, Anne Arundel, Washington, and Montgomery counties, those held in detention centers may be offered Vivitrol, a drug to block addiction, prior to being released. The programs seeks to reduce recidivism. [Carroll County Times] Cecil County’s Detention Center’s program has served several dozen inmates who are looking to continue in sobriety after release. [Cecil Daily]

In Washington County, a day-reporting center provides an alternative to incarceration for non-violent offenders who have substance abuse disorders. The program blends a high level of community supervision with intensive case management and addiction treatment. Participants undergo random alcohol and drug testing, and are provided with job training, financial education, and social supports. The center has showed early success, even finding one participant a job within 29 days of starting the program.  [ County Sheriff’s Office]

But despite the good news, the fight is (very, very) far from over. Stay tuned for Conduit Street for updates and be in touch with your county stories.