City of Vancouver sets federal legislative priorities

Crystal ball not as clear as usual, city council hears

By Katy Sword, Columbian staff writer

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The city of Vancouver’s federal legislative priorities for 2018 can be broken into three categories: investment in a safe and welcoming community, growing a more prosperous city and becoming a more vibrant city.

While those topics popped up during Monday night’s city council meeting, officials focused largely on how some changes by the Trump administration might impact cities like Vancouver.

Joel Rubin, the city’s federal legislation liaison, told the council the crystal ball is not as clear as it used to be given the current political dynamic, “but we’ll take a crack at it.”

The Office of Management and Budget, for example, might hold back federal transportation funding from local municipalities.

Rubin said many OMB staffers come from a libertarian group that wants to devolve transportation investment and make cities and states responsible for financing transportation improvements. Director Mick Mulvaney also supports the idea. That perspective trickles down to the budget, Rubin said, and is the reason infrastructure funding was cut from the proposed 2018 budget. A six-page amendment was released in May, but a full infrastructure plan has yet to be unveiled. President Donald Trump now says the plan will be made public in January.

Politics

As it stands, such funding programs as Community Development Block Grants and the HOME Investment Partnerships Program are eliminated in the federal budget. CDBG funds are used to help fund affordable housing. Vancouver distributed more than $1.1 million last year in CDBG funds and more than $988,000 in HOME funds.

Mayor Tim Leavitt wondered aloud if some programs with federal funding have become more politically motivated.

“It just strikes me that many of the states benefiting most from those programs are controlled by the same party as the administration,” he said.

In the meantime, the city of Vancouver is hoping for $2 million to provide better trail access at Fort Vancouver, $3 million to improve Southeast First Street and another $1 million to enhance the Evergreen Highway Trail.

As is the case with most meetings taking a broader view at local issues, tolling made an appearance in the discussion.

Rubin cited a Vancouver seat held by Mayor-elect Anne McEnerny-Ogle on the Oregon tolling advisory committee as a 2017 accomplishment.

“We worked closely with Senator (Patty) Murray to make sure Vancouver not only had a seat on this commission but a voting seat,” Rubin said.

City officials also discussed the proposed Republican tax reform bill.

Rubin said there are a number of concerns for the city, such as the repeal of the personal deduction of state and local taxes.

“We have a number of middle-income tax payers and lower middle-income tax payers in Vancouver,” Rubin said. “We want to make sure Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler understands the impacts to our community.”

Rubin said they are talking with Herrera Beutler on the issue and that she is interested in working on fixes to local concerns as the two bills are consolidated in conference committee.

“Unfortunately, the bill has been supported on the party line,” he said. “I think at the end of the day, the public perception of this bill is seeping into the conversation.”