County officials say White House meeting highlighted many local concerns

Posted 28 August 2018 at 10:17 am

Press Release, New York State Association of Counties

Last week, nearly 150 county leaders from New York and New Jersey, including three Orleans County legislators, attended a conference at the White House. The meeting was policy-oriented and included opportunities for discussion between the states’ county leaders and White House Administration officials.

Lynne Johnson, Don Allport and Skip Draper from Orleans County joined other county leaders in hearing presentations from 10 administration officials, including senior presidential counsel Kellyanne Conway. The event was part of a series the White House has been holding with county-level officials from around the country. County officials from across the state, representing both parties, were invited.

“It was an important and productive visit to the White House,” said Lynne Johnson, chairwoman of the Orleans County Legislature. “New York county officials have never been invited to hear first hand the direction of the country. This provided us to present our concerns, locally and understand the policies of the Federal government. Agriculture, veterans issues, infrastructure, the opioid crisis were some of the issues we raised. We will be following up with the contacts we made to help our communities.”

The event was run by the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. Officials from the departments of energy, agriculture and education, a U.S. trade representative, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement addressed the delegates as well.

“This was an unprecedented event – it’s the first time any White House has reached out to counties and opened up the discussion,” said Stephen Acquario, executive director of the New York State Association of Counties. “Counties administer federal programs at the local level, so open communication between the levels of government is crucial to developing sound policy.”

Policy discussions focused on agriculture and dairy, the opioid crisis, immigration reform and the impact on New York State, drinking water safety, infrastructure, and changes in tax policy. Each of these issue areas greatly impact New York’s counties and communities.

The New York delegates convened before the White House event for a briefing on national county priorities, hosted by the National Association of Counties.

Select federal issues of concern to New York counties include:

The Proposed Federal Infrastructure Program

On the plus side, the President’s proposed program would reduce regulatory barriers to road and bridge projects and public private partnerships. For example, the proposal would allow for only one environmental review for a project to get green lighted.

On the negative side, the funding proposed would require a 20 percent federal and 80 percent local match. For many current projects this amounts to a complete reversal of federal/local match levels, where federal support can be as high as 80 percent today for major projects. Given the fiscal constraints facing NY counties, local governments would be hard pressed to leverage much of the $200 billion in federal funding for county and town road and bridge projects in NY. The President’s focus on infrastructure is welcome but counties, states and congress will need to work to find a better balance.

Federal Tax Reforms and the Cap on State and Local Tax (SALT) Deduction

While many New Yorkers will benefit from several provisions in the Federal Tax Reforms enacted late last year, many other New Yorkers will be hurt by the $10,000 cap on the state and local tax deduction. New Yorkers pay some of the highest property taxes in the nation, so many homeowners, particularly in downstate area pay much more than $10,000 in combined income and property taxes. It is important to note that the federal tax changes related to SALT will impact downstate areas much differently than most of upstate. However, the negative fiscal impacts generated downstate, because of their large size, will hurt the whole state and over time these impacts will grow.

For many years, going back decades in fact, New York State has been a donor state to the federal government. This means we send far more in federal income taxes to Washington DC than we get back in federal grants and aid. In the most recent year this imbalance was nearly $50 billion. The new federal SALT limitations unfairly shifts even more revenues from New York State, and a handful of others, and redistributes that money to the rest of the nation. The imbalances experienced by donor states like New York, reduces our overall GDP growth compared to the “donee” states – a better balance needs to be found on the SALT provisions going forward.

Battling the Opioid Crisis and Federal Funding

Counties are on the forefront of the battle against the opioid epidemic across the nation and particularly in New York State. We appreciate the President appointing a commission that is focused on reducing over-prescription, cutting off the supply of illicit drugs, and helping those struggling with addiction. We ask that federal funding be streamlined to states and counties to allow us to invest in more community-based programs such as jail-based substance abuse programs.

Immigration Reform and New York

We appreciate the President’s focus on curbing illegal immigration, but we ask the White House to recognize the reliance of New York’s farmers and tourism businesses on immigrant labor. Reforms should allow current, trained workers to stay on farms as well as improve the guest worker H2A visa program to address seasonal and year-round labor needs on our farms and allow for J1 visas for foreign students to work in communities that rely on summer tourism.

US EPA PFOA MCL/US DOD Funding for cleanup and testing near military bases around NY

PFOA and PFOS are fluorinated chemicals used to make carpets, clothing, cookware and other products that are resistant to water, grease, or stains. When they get into drinking water, they are linked to cancers and immune system impairments. The federal budget includes $63.8 million for remediation and research efforts for communities contaminated by PFOS and PFOA. The Department of Defense will receive $43.8 million for identifying and cleaning up former waste disposal sites on military property for the remediation of those two chemicals. New York has several sites in need of remediation.

Local governments also urge the EPA to establish a maximum contaminant limit for PFAS in drinking water.

Passage of the Farm Bill

Agriculture is a significant part of New York’s economy and a central pillar of New York’s agriculture production is dairy farming. Recent trends have hurt dairy farmers significantly and there are provisions within the Farm bill that can help New York’s farmers and we strongly encourage congress to finish deliberations on the Farm Bill to protect all of our farmers.

Internet Sales Tax

The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding the collection of Internet sales tax by states provided an outcome positive for states and that the White House supported. There have been efforts in the past by Congress to change federal laws to create a nationwide standard, but it has been many years since there has been any serious attempt. With the new Supreme Court decision in place, states now have a clear blueprint for how they can move forward and still maintain the rights of all parties impacted. Because of recent events, we do not believe Congress needs to enact any new federal law that imposes a federally mandated one-size-fits all solution. The Supreme Court has provided a clear path forward and states should be allowed to proceed on their own without congressional intervention.

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