In a show of solidarity with cities, the President invited National League of Cities’ (NLC) President Marie Lopez, mayor of Avondale, Arizona, to sit in the gallery with the First Lady for the speech.
The President covered a variety of issues, renewing his call for action to address immigration reform and gun violence, specifically focusing on background checks for all gun sales. In addition, he asked for more support for responsible homeowners who are current on payments, but cannot refinance due to property values. Below are a few areas that cities may be particularly interested.
Sequestration: Very early in his speech, the President called on Congress to adopt a balanced approach to deficit reduction rather than letting the sequester go into effect. He reminded them that the sequester was only meant to be a threat, and that it will hurt military readiness, devastate energy, medical research and education programs, slow recovery and cost the country jobs. The League has also been advocating for a balanced approach; unfortunately it seems that the sequester is now a very real possibility.
“Fix-It-First” and “Partnership to Rebuild America” Infrastructure Programs: President Obama also called for two new programs to address the nation’s failing infrastructure. He pointed out that more than 200,000 miles of U.S. roads need repair right now and that thousands of bridges are structurally deficient. The Fix-It-First program will focus on repairing what we have, while the Partnership to Rebuild America program will attract private investment for public infrastructure.
Tax Reform and MuniBonds: The President renewed his call for closing loopholes and overall tax reform. Unfortunately for cities, comprehensive tax reform will likely include a cap or elimination of the tax exempt status for municipal bonds. On a call Wednesday morning with NLC and the White House, David Agnew, director of Intergovernmental Affairs for the White House, was specifically asked about this, as the President has been supportive of a cap in the past. He assured cities that their concerns were being heard and weighed, but could not provide any assurance that the President was removing his support. It is important that cities continue to advocate for the tax exemption for municipal bonds. The League has sample letters available.
Climate Change: The President pointed to the many natural disasters the country has recently faced and concluded that the nation must do more to combat climate change. He focused on three areas of action: reducing carbon pollution, preparing communities for climate change, and accelerating the country’s transition to more sustainable sources of energy. He also proposed a new Energy Security Trust to shift cars and trucks off oil for good. He indicated that without congressional action, the President would act through executive order.
Additional information on the Presidents’ proposals is expected to be released in the upcoming weeks, likely with the release of his budget. The text and enhanced video of the State of the Union is available. In addition, cities may like to follow David Agnew on Twitter as he will be distributing information of interest to cities.