The U.S. Conference of Mayors had record turn out at its winter meeting — it might have been the largest gathering of mayors in the nation’s capital, according to USCM President and Oklahoma City, Okla., Mayor Mick Cornett. So they took the opportunity of being in Washington D.C. for three days to let the incoming Federal administration know that mayors are “united aggressively,” as New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, USCM vice president, put it when he outlined priorities.
They held press conferences on immigration reform, the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the priorities they bring to a new federal administration about to take office.
Mayoral Priorities in Washington
Back in December, USCM leadership met with President-Elect Donald Trump about infrastructure, policing in cities, cities as job and economic engines as well as centers of innovation, and very importantly, the Federal tax exemption on municipal bonds. The USCM delegation said at the time they found Trump very supportive of maintaining that tax exemption. The bonds, which offer a modest return on a modest investment, according to Columbia, S.C. Mayor Steve Benjamin, USCM second vice president, are the bedrock of infrastructure.
The top priority, however, is working with the federal government on infrastructure. Mayors want to see the infrastructure money go to cities rather than states. Previously, stimulus provided just about 1 percent directly to cities, said Cornett.
“The nation’s mayors are in a much better position to get these projects built and constructed and to use these dollars more wisely and efficiently than an over-inflated bureaucratic government might be you know somewhere between here and Washington,” said Cornett, who also noted that water infrastructure needs to be pushed to a higher priority as well.
Cornett called those first meetings at Trump Tower “really enjoyable,” based on discussions about the tax status of muni bonds, community development block grants, policing priorities and Trump’s infrastructure rebuilding and job creation desires.
But we also know that the key to making all this work is going to be increased decision making at the local level, and we are going to need to help Washington understand that infrastructure cannot simply be paid for through private sector incentives. It’s going to take a broad package of investments to make it all happen,” he said.
The USCM in its Secure America Plan also calls on the president elect to:
- Reinvigorate the COPS program
- Expand homeland security grants to prepare and respond to terrorism
- Invest in mental health and substance abuse services
- Support aggressive efforts to reduce gun violence
- Continue bipartisan criminal justice reforms
Mayors are also “attempting to forge consensus” on healthcare and immigration, “which are going to require the adults to show up in the room,” said Landrieu at the opening USCM press conference.
Repeal of the ACA with nothing to replace it could strip more than 32 million people of their insurance, according to USCM.
Cities will also protect all their residents, he stated firmly: “The police departments of America are not going to become the deportation forces for the Federal government.”
These particular issues could prove divisive between the new Federal government, which indicated it wants to be a “great friend” to cities, and many mayors. The USCM put together a bipartisan emergency immigration resolution, also unveiled at the winter meeting, to ensure actions that will keep 11 million immigrants on a steady pathway towards inclusion.
In opening the meeting, Cornett said that citizens look to mayors to bring more civility to the public discourse. “This election exposed deep concerns and fears across the political spectrum. Mayors know that language matters, and tone matters and intent matters,” he said.
Officially welcoming the USCM to Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser was clear about the position of mayors as they approach this new administration. “That’s important that while we’re in Washington, we’re talking about what the Federal government can partner with us to do. We are looking forward to that challenge and those opportunities and we are also very strategic and smart about how we have to protect ourselves against any vulnerabilities that we find,” she said.
Federal Pledge to Cities
Vice President-Elect Mike Pence, the first incoming vice president to address the USCM winter meeting prior to the inauguration, pledged that the federal government would work with mayors to strengthen local rule because they understand it, and want to empower their leadership.
“Our job as mayors and my job when I served as a governor is to stop, to listen, to bring a servant’s attitude and do all you can in the immediate moment to address the issue,” said Pence.
The system of federalism in the Constitution is there to support the closest form of government to the people.
“Government that governs least governs best, and this new administration is going to work in partnership with city halls all across America,” and that’s the partnership that needs to be “enlivened in the days ahead,” he said.
Pence pledged that the administration will work with all mayors, republican and democratic. “No politics, just results,” he said, noting that the plans outlined by the new administration in the last few months require working directly with cities and states to get “urban results.”
Pence brought the message from Trump: “Tell them we’re going to do an infrastructure bill and it’s going to be big.”
The administration will also address education, education reform and promote career and vocational education, said Pence.
The administration knows “that the people who do the hardest work are the people that wear the uniforms,” and is deeply committed to mobilizing first responders in equipment and training, he said.
Pence also pledged that the Trump Administration will unleash job creation by reigniting the “economy and encourage the kind of investment in America that will create jobs in America,” he said.
“This administration is going to be a friend to America’s mayors,” though he expects there will be disagreement.
But their overarching goals are the same, he said.
“The success of our country depends on the success of our cities.”
Mayors Stand on Immigration Reform
“Look at this coalition, by the way, white, black, brown, Asian, native,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti as he introduced the USCM immigration press conference with impassioned words about the “dreamers” that built America.
Led by Garcetti and Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, Anaheim, Calif. Mayor Tom Tait, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and others, USCM is appealing to the federal government to act on immigration reform.
The coalition would like the conversation with the federal government to focus on the value and the assets large immigration populations represent, said Elorza.
“What we’re asking for is very simple…we’re asking for Congress, respectfully, to fix a broken immigration system,” said Tait.
Landrieu reiterated how local police departments will not become federal deportation forces and that it was significant for republican and democratic leaders coming together in Washington asking for a comprehensive approach to make streets safe and protect opportunities for immigrants.
Several cities, like Los Angeles and Chicago, have established legal funds to support immigrants that face deportation.
“Let’s solve the problem instead of fighting it out one case at a time,” concluded Garcetti.
Mayors Rally for Healthcare
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh led the ACA press conference, stating that mayors are literally standing together to ensure key provisions of the law are maintained.
The USCM is asking Congress to put ideology aside, and not just repeal affordable healthcare laws without a replacement, and to understand the magnitude of repeal.
Mayors discussed how millions in cities depend on ACA for affordable healthcare, and their desire to protect the good work that has been done under the law.
Landrieu said that New Orleans has rebuilt the city following Hurricane Katrina under the ACA, and that the city is stronger and better because of it. “You can’t replace something with nothing…We’re going to fight for it,” he said.
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said that his city has cut its uninsured rate in half under ACA. “If you talk about repeal first, chaos will happen in the insurance market right away,” he said, noting that chaos in cities will not be far behind.
Mayor Luke Bronin of Hartford, Conn., detailed how one of two children in his city grow up below the Federal poverty level, and the rest are on the edge. “But it’s not just about the poorest…this is about health security and financial security for every American,” noting that healthcare bills are the leading cause of bankruptcy.
On Feb. 22nd cities across America will act on healthcare security.
“Explain to your legislature and your governors the importance of this,” said Walsh.