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Changes in Washington DC and Michigan Could Lead to Opportunity for Michigan Communities
By Arnold Weinfeld
The November 2010 election will certainly go down as a historic one. A political tsunami swept out Democratic control in many state houses, governors' chairs, and in the halls of Congress as well. Michigan was no different. A congressional delegation that was 8-7 Democratic is now 9-6 Republican with five new congressional members (although Tim Walberg of the 7th district is a returning member).
That all-American tradition, the ballot box, allowed voters to voice their concerns on such issues as government spending and the ever-growing federal budget deficit. In response, members of Congress will need to tackle these thorny issues. We will see if the public at large is ready for the large dose of medicine needed to cure what ails us.
On the federal level, President Obama will present a very austere budget to Congress. As of early January, there are reports that he will offer a cut of 25 percent to the Community Development Block Grant program (CDBG). This would be a big blow—CDGB funds have added economic value, jobs, and quality of life for most communities in Michigan. Yet this and other discretionary funding programs will be in jeopardy of massive cuts if the medicine that has been asked for is delivered.
Prior to the end of 2010, two national commissions released reports chock full of recommendations on how to address the federal deficit. The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, as well as the Bipartisan Policy Center’s “Restoring America’s Future” report have some similar ideas, especially when it comes to items such as Medicare, Social Security and defense spending. But they also contain recommendations that would directly impact local communities—touching everything from transportation funding to rural development programs. And one of the recommendations from the Obama commission would even make bonds issued by state and local governments fully taxable.
The bottom line is, depending on how the President and Congress react, any changes will have implications for our entire country, including local governments.
MICHIGAN HAS POWER IN THE HOUSE
As the session gets going, Michigan will actually have some clout. In the Republican-led House, Congressman Dave Camp, (Midland) has been named chair of the Ways and Means Committee, a spot formerly held by Michigan Congressman Sander Levin (D-Royal Oak). Levin will not be leaving the committee—instead he will become the ranking Democratic member. Exercising jurisdiction over all tax and revenue related legislation, the Ways and Means Committee is one of the most powerful committees in the House. Michigan now holds the top two spots on this important committee.
Congressman Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) will chair the Energy and Commerce Committee, a post held for years by Congressman John Dingell. The Energy and Commerce Committee has jurisdiction over issues such as energy, telecommunications, and health care. Also in the House, Congressman Mike Rogers (R-Brighton) will chair the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. While a third of Michigan’s congressional delegation is new, it is certain that Michigan’s congressional members will be playing key roles no matter what issues are discussed and debated over the next two years in Washington.
In the Senate, where Democrats still control, Debbie Stabenow has been named to lead the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. Democrat Carl Levin will retain his chairmanship of the Senate Armed Services panel.
THE 2010 CENSUS FALLOUT
According to Census figures, Michigan was the only state in the country to decrease in population over the last decade. We will lose one congressional seat when redistricting occurs later this year. Losing population also means that Michigan will receive less federal funds for programs impacting both the state and local government. Over 140 federal programs use census data to distribute funds. For example, in 2007-08 Michigan received $16 billion in federal funding, most of it for Medicaid. Some estimates indicate that the population decline will cost Michigan about $1,000 in federal aid per year per resident lost for each of the next 10 years—about $548 million. A real hit will be the decrease in federal transportation dollars both for repairing our local streets and roads as well as creating the kind of 21st century multi-modal infrastructure that will help to make our communities vibrant places that people look to live, work and play in.
Although committee chairs were yet to be announced as of the writing of this article, it is widely expected that Florida Congressman James Mica will be named the new chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Early analysis of Mr. Mica’s philosophy shows him to be a supporter of high-speed rail and other alternative mobility solutions. In regard to funding, Congressman Mica has stated that increases in the gas tax is a non-starter and that he’d like to see greater private spending. His comments over time indicate he’d like to see a rail system that is self-supporting, a hard thing to come by for sure and in conflict with the policies of the President and the current administration.
Of course, Mr. Mica will not be operating in a vacuum—the Senate and White House are still in Democratic control. Given the fact that the transportation funding bill expired over a year ago, development of transportation policy will clearly be a good test of whether or not the Congress and the President can agree to compromise. Michigan does have long-time Congresswoman Candice Miller on this committee, which will provide us with some avenues of hope moving forward.
The League will continue to work with our congressional delegation and national partners such as the National League of Cities (NLC) on issues of importance to our communities. We’ll have an opportunity this spring as key League staff and local officials from across the state visit D.C. in mid-March for the NLC Congressional Cities Conference.
Arnold Weinfeld is director of strategic initiatives and federal affairs for the League. You may reach him at 517-908-0304 or firstname.lastname@example.org.