National Association of Counties
Washington, D.C.

 LUCC pushes transportation bill, urges Highway Trust Fund fix

Photos by David Hathcox
Large Urban County Caucus President Roy Brooks, Tarrant County, Texas commissioner (bottom left), opens LUCC’s transportation briefing at the National Press Club June 11. The briefing jump-started the annual LUCC legislative fly-in, June 10–12. Hennepin County, Minn. Commissioner Peter McLaughlin (top left) and Whatcom County, Wash. Councilmember Pete Kremen (bottom right) highlight key transportation projects in their counties at the briefing. LUCC members also met with Congressional Urban Caucus Chairman Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) (top right) during their meeting.

NACo’s Large Urban County Caucus (LUCC) urged action on key federal transportation legislation and funding during its annual Washington, D.C. legislative fly-in, June 10–12.

During a briefing at the National Press Club, June 11, LUCC members called for the swift reauthorization of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) and a long-term solution for the Highway Trust Fund, which is fast approaching a major fiscal cliff.

“Counties call on Congress to fix the Highway Trust Fund and reauthorize a six-year surface transportation bill that directs more funding to locally owned infrastructure,” said Tarrant County, Texas Commissioner Roy C. Brooks, LUCC chair. “Federal inaction leaves urban counties stuck in traffic. Counties are doing our part, and we need Congress to step up and take action now.”


Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.), chairman of the Congressional Urban Caucus, briefs LUCC members in Washington D.C.

Renewal of MAP-21 was one of four core issues LUCC members raised in meetings and briefings with Obama Administration officials and leaders on Capitol Hill, including leaders of the Congressional Urban Caucus.

The gathering brought together more than a dozen urban county leaders to discuss pressing federal legislative priorities including threats to tax-exempt municipal bonds, support for the Marketplace Fairness Act and protection of the federal exemption for local property and income taxes.

Of special interest was a meeting with representatives from the two-month-old Office of State and Local Finance (OSLF) in the U.S. Treasury Department. Since its formation was announced in April, there’s been speculation about its role and authority.

During their meeting, LUCC members learned that the office will serve as a single point of contact for counties and other local governments to inform federal policymakers on public finance issues. It will not have either statutory or regulatory powers, but will perform research and analysis, according to Gary Grippo, deputy assistant secretary for government financial policy at Treasury.

It will be a small operation, 10 staffers or fewer, who are in the process of being hired. The OSLF will not advocate for local governments, Grippo said, but will serve as a source for information. Former JP Morgan Managing Director Kent Hiteshew will be in charge, reporting to Matthew Rutherford, the Treasury’s assistant secretary for financial markets.

“Because we have no stick, or statute, behind us, we have to rely on building good relationships,” Grippo said. “What we do have is the convening power of the U.S. Treasury, and at the minimum we’ll be able to call interested groups together and provide a forum.”

He cited the passage and subsequent alteration of reforms to the National Flood Insurance Program as a situation in which the OSLF could have played a role in offering the local government perspective.

The office will focus on six primary issues:

  • financially stressed entities
  • infrastructure finance — help work around obstacles to financing
  • understanding state and local budget, fiscal and accounting matters, and how local government budget directors make budgetary tradeoffs
  • tax issues
  • public pensions and
  • the regulatory environment for municipal debt.

“We want to develop deep expertise in public finance, just as we have deep expertise in corporate finance,” Grippo said. “It would be filling a knowledge hole on the federal side. Local representatives have a much different view on the nature of problems than the think tanks or the states.

 “Our success depends on whether or not we add value,” to the federal policy formation process, he added. “We need good information to present the right picture. If the Treasury Department is working on some regulatory issue, informing them on their regulatory decisions depends on what kind of data we can get.”

Milwaukee County, Wis. Executive Chris Abele was encouraged that OSFL would not be a regulatory body.

“What it can be is a credible group that could legitimize our efforts if, together, we came up with different financing structure ideas or joint analysis of how policy will impact counties, like taxing muni bonds,” he said. “It has potential.”

Photos by Charlie Ban
Left photo: LUCC members listen at briefing by the Office of State and Local Finance. They are (clockwise from right foreground) LUCC Chair Roy Brooks, Tarrant County, Texas; Peter McLaughlin, Hennepin County, Minn.;  NACo Second Vice President Sallie Clark, El Paso County, Colo.; Toni Carter, Ramsey County, Minn.; and Jim Healy, DuPage County, Ill. Right photo: Ben Levine, policy analyst; Adam Chepenik, Office of State and Local Finance deputy director; and Gary Grippo, deputy assistant secretary for fiscal operations and policy at the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

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