With 2020 Agenda, Mayors Stake Out Positions on Housing, Guns and Climate

The U.S. Conference of Mayors will be co-sponsoring a presidential candidate forum in Iowa later this week, on Dec. 6. Here a woman is seen drinking coffee at an unrelated campaign event in the state.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors will be co-sponsoring a presidential candidate forum in Iowa later this week, on Dec. 6. Here a woman is seen drinking coffee at an unrelated campaign event in the state.

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The local leaders also address a range of other issues in their new platform that they want presidential candidates and other contenders for federal office to take notice of.

The leading group that represents mayors from across the U.S. on Wednesday released a slate of policy priorities that they hope to draw attention to as the 2020 presidential election heats up.

Affordable housing, infrastructure, climate change and gun laws are among the issues that the U.S. Conference of Mayors is keying in on. Some of the proposals they put forward as part of their platform are quite specific—like raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour from $7.25. Others are more general, such as promoting inclusive and compassionate communities.

Each of the dozen individual priorities in the “Mayors’ Vision for America” fits within three broad categories: infrastructure, innovation and inclusion. 

“Our Vision for America outlines the kinds of bipartisan policies that we believe are both needed and achievable if we don’t allow politics to bog us down,” said Bryan Barnett, the mayor of Rochester Hills, Michigan, and the Conference’s current president.

On Friday, the group is co-sponsoring a presidential candidate forum in Iowa where contenders for the Democratic nomination are expected to appear, including South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker, Julián Castro and Tom Steyer.

Near its outset, the document describing the mayors’ platform decries the “dysfunction” in Washington and dings Congress and the White House for failing to adequately address issues such as affordable housing, immigration, distressed neighborhoods and climate change.

Certain priorities are also clearly out of step with positions the Trump administration has taken.

For instance, the group calls on federal authorities to fix the nation’s “broken immigration system,” urging Congress and the president to “halt punitive federal policies aimed at reducing the number of immigrants coming to our country.” Trump has made tough immigration policy a hallmark of his presidency.

The mayors also call for fighting climate change by accelerating clean energy use. Trump has championed coal and his administration has moved to pull the nation out of an international climate accord. The administration also has rolled  back domestic regulations on vehicle and power plant emissions.

Mayors on a call Wednesday with reporters skirted a question about how their priorities on issues like immigration, climate change and taxes would fare if Trump is reelected.

But regardless of who wins the presidency in 2020, some of the goals that the mayors have identified are apt to be uphill battles in Washington, given general partisan gridlock in passing major legislation in recent years, and annual federal budget deficits now in the $1 trillion range.

Reimagining and modernizing the nation’s transportation infrastructure is one of the mayors’ priorities, for example.

Since the 2016 election, both Trump and Democrats in Congress have voiced support for a sweeping infrastructure bill of some sort. But questions about where to find money to pay for a package, along with Republican skepticism over raising taxes, have presented roadblocks.

Tensions between Trump and Democrats over efforts in Congress to investigate his conduct also make any deal basically impossible.

“None of these things are exceptionally easy,” Barnett said as he discussed the mayors' platform. “If they were simple, they probably would have been done.”

Barnett emphasized that, from his perspective, the level of bipartisan cooperation among mayors is unique and is “not something that exists in a lot of other layers of government." He noted how he has joined Democratic mayors in the past, speaking in favor of certain gun control measures to GOP lawmakers in Congress.  

Louisville, Kentucky Mayor Greg Fischer was also on Wednesday's calls. “Our job with this document was to create an aspirational document,” he said. “That’s part of leadership.”

“There’s no question that we’re living in rapidly changing times, divisive times, our democracy is being tested right now,” he added. “What this document represents is a bipartisan call, a nonpartisan call, for the candidates and the incumbent to take a serious look at.”

Affordable housing and homelessness are issues that loom large in many American cities.

The mayors make a number of proposals in these two areas.

They urge higher spending on two U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development block grant programs—Community Development Block Grants and HOME Investment Partnerships.

Congress has allocated additional money for these programs in recent spending bills, despite the White House proposing to eliminate the grants. But the mayors say that funding levels haven’t kept up with rising costs, or the increased demand for the programs.

The mayors proposed new federal programs related to housing as well. One would be geared toward purchasing and redeveloping residential and commercial property that is foreclosed, abandoned, or vacant. Another would be a “rental housing production” initiative.

On homelessness, they ask that lawmakers in Washington recognize that cities “face a crisis” that requires “bold federal action” to solve, including expanded support under programs within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

As part of a broader public safety policy priority, the mayors backed a number of measures intended to prevent gun violence.

Making background checks for gun purchases universal, strengthening the regulation of gun sales and dealers, and reinstating an “effective ban on military-style assault weapons,” large capacity magazines and other related gun components are some of their proposals.

These ideas are commonly raised in the national debate over how to regulate firearms in an era when mass shootings have become increasingly common. Proposals along these lines tend to draw opposition from gun rights advocates, like the National Rifle Association.

Nan Whaley is mayor of Dayton, Ohio, where a gunman in August killed nine people and wounded others.

“Since that time, which has now been nearly four months, we’ve seen exactly zero action come out of Washington, D.C.,” Whaley said. The mayor noted that even gun violence that is not making national headlines is putting pressure on communities.

Whaley highlighted steps that fellow mayors have taken to impose new insurance requirements for gun owners, to restrict high capacity magazines, and to back “red flag laws,” enabling authorities with court approval to confiscate guns from people deemed to be a safety threat.

“We can’t solve this crisis at the local level alone,” Whaley said.

Elsewhere the platform pushes for a rewrite of the federal tax code. Here it calls for reinstating an uncapped federal tax deduction for state and local taxes households pay. The Republican-led federal tax overhaul in 2017 limited this tax deduction to $10,000.

The mayors also want to see a tax break restored for “advance refundings,” a type of bond that state and local governments previously used to refinance and restructure debt. This, too, was swept away under the changes to the federal tax code lawmakers enacted about two years ago.

Some of the other policy priorities that the mayors support are focused on protecting civil rights, investing in water and sewer infrastructure, education and workforce development, guaranteeing access to affordable, quality health care and promoting exports and trade.

“We just can’t say the status quo is good,” said Fischer, the Louisville mayor. “We’re going to keep pounding away at this.”

The mayors' platform can be found here.

Bill Lucia is a Senior Reporter for Route Fifty and is based in Olympia, Washington. You can reach him at wlucia@routefifty.com.

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