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Congress

Polarization: It's Everywhere

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Polarization: It's Everywhere

 

Yesterday I heard a state legislature tell me that the best place to train for legislative leadership is in the minority. After spending a few years as a Democrat in a Republican House of Representatives, this person when on to become the Majority Leader when the Democrats gained control. 

Politics is cyclical. Those in the minority may soon have control of either or both chambers. Yet, according to an article in The New York Times, Polarization: It's Everywhere. According to the article and a new study from Pew Research, Republicans in Congress don't trust Democrats (and the feeling on the other side is mutual) and the voters certainly don't think very highly of those that we put in office. 

When we don't trust each other we don't work well together, but in creating sound public policy we need that trust. To help restore the ability to work together, to accomplish a common goal or mission, I propose the creation of a Center for Public Policy Dispute Resolution. They exist in states such as Washington and Oregon and in city's like Salt Lake City, but we need to bring these models to other centers of power where politics trumps policy and progress.

There will always be politics and opposing views and debates on issues -- that is healthy, but what Oregon Solutions or Salt Lake Solutions provides is "process".

To formalize and sustain this process, I propose creating an office similar to Oregon Solutions, which provides a system and process for problem solving, using collaborative governance as a method of public decision-making in which government leaders involve stakeholders from many areas of society, including community members, businesses, other government agencies and non-profit organizations in making decisions that affect how people are governed or how public resources are used.

Oftentimes issues are brought to the Governor’s attention through Regional Solutions Centers (RSCs), which are places for state agencies to collaborate with each other and among key stakeholders.  

When an issue seems intractable, Oregon Solutions calls on Oregon Consensus to mediate and resolve conflict.  Oregon Consensus focuses its work on issues regarding the environment, economic development, transportation and public health.

Both Oregon Solutions and Oregon Consensus are not government entities, but they are affiliated with Portland State University. The Oregon Legislature continues to fund this program ($1.2M). Washington also has a similar system. 

Similarly, at a city level, Salt Lake Solutions is jointly funded by the City Council and the Mayor and is part of the city government. It is charged with the task of solving community problems by cultivating inclusive collaborations of public and private support. Ralph Becker, the Mayor of Salt Lake City, took that same model and created Salt Lake City Solutions, an office, in the city’s planning department, that is dedicated to community engagement and facilitation. 

These organizations provide a system and process for problem solving, using community governance. This includes:

  • Assess situations and bring the right people to the table to discuss them.
  • Design and facilitate meetings to make sure all viewpoints are considered.
  • Help groups sort through information to support sound decisions.
  • Help groups convey their recommendations or agreements in writing.

It takes the burden off the elected officials to drive politically charged issues to a neutral organization that can create the process to resolve them.

Each issue comes to the organization’s attention after the Mayor, Council or Governor defines a problem that needs to be solved. The Mayor/Governor designates an impartial convener to bring people together and develop an assessment of the proposed project. If the issue meets the criteria for resolution, a neutral or convener is selected to manage and help resolve the project through facilitated meetings.

If we can agree to disagree than let's work together to at least build a process to help resolve our differences. 

 

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Chaos in Congress as the U.S. Government Shuts Down

In Detroit, we can live with a municipal bankruptcy as the government continues to function -- albeit not at an optimum level, the government still works. However, when Congress focuses on politics rather than sound public policy, it is the American people who suffer, and it is "Brand America" that gets its reputation damaged across the globe. And at such a crucial time as we become more involved in international disputes. Congress has had ample opportunity and time to work out their differences, even with complex policy disputes mired in politics and controversy. When it would have been clear that the House could not reach a consensus among themselves they should should have tapped trained non-partisan facilitators, including those from the Federal Mediation Conciliation Service, a federally funded agency,  to provide a forum for resolving the toughest public policy disputes and create a process by which to bring the stakeholders together.

Consensus building is a process by which the parties seek unanimous agreement.  It involves a good-faith effort by each stakeholder to meet the interests of each other. In today’s legislative environment, politics often trumps policy and public policy dispute resolution can assist lawmakers and regulators in reaching consensus and bring closure to a number of issues that have long been unresolved, while overcoming outside political pressure.

However, in this situation chaos trumped consensus because not all the stakeholders sought an equitable solution in good faith.  It is time politics takes a back seat to agree on a vision for this country. Once our elected members of Congress can agree on a vision, we can then work to re-establish trust and begin to engage in civil and productive discourse leading to resolving complex policy disputes for the sake of moving our Nation forward.

However, this takes leadership and I am not sure we have that today in Congress.

 

 

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Sustain a move-ment

As Republicans and Democrats convene their conventions this month to affirm or select new leadership, one thing is certain, both parties need to work harder at building a brand and sustaining a movement. A ‘move-ment’ is a series of organized activities towards a common objective.

How do you create a movement – With just one big idea.

That idea should be simple.  It should be something that you and others can be passionate about.

Now that you the idea, you now need to get people to care about it. And it also will need its own identity to give people something to talk about.

Now its time to “Ignite the Movement,” and provide even more reasons to talk about it.

From a political party perspective, to sustain a movement, everyone should be on the same page. The House and Senate Caucuses should work in sync with the established party so that everyone is working to compliment the other, reinforce the messages, engage the public and build a movement by getting people who are interested engaged.

The American Electorate is frustrated with politics as usual, the name-calling and the lack of progress in state capitols and in Congress. Instead of being against what the other party is for, each party should create a platform to engage the other side in a solution-based discussion about where to agree and where to move on.

I recently read that “a credible idea makes people believe. An emotional idea gets people to care.’  Given the right agenda, Democrats and Republicans can create the right stories to bring outsiders inside their movement and in the end they will get the right people to act to help us all move forward.

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A New Way Forward & A Consensus Approach to Public Policy

The honeymoon is over. The dust has already settled on the President’s Inaugural Address and the State of the State for many Governors. The Mayors have returned from their winter conference and special interests already staked out their positions on legislative agenda’s across America. Over the next legislative cycle, what issues will be tackled, which ones will be resolved and which issues will our government leaders punt to the next session will depend in large part to how well our legislators can get along.

We elected our leaders to represent a common mission not a party platform. Yet in legislating, most often it is politics that trump sound public policy.

It is time to shift how government decisions are made and for our elected leaders to find:

a new way forward while seeking consensus instead of controversy.

It is time our leaders lead us forward, not back. This starts by reframing the problems plaguing our state or nation in a way that each side could identify with. Once we find a connection to an issue, we are most likely to work hard at finding a resolution. In doing so it is hard to look beyond the politics, but as long as we can agree to concepts and work to make small steps towards building or rebuilding trust in finding a common agenda, our lawmakers can eventually find common ground and those difficult issues, the ones that kept getting put off or “re-authorized,” will move off the agenda so we can focus on the next great challenge.

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What's On Congress' Agenda in 2012?

When Congress returns to work on January 17 after their winter recess, they will return to the agenda they left before the end of the year. This includes focusing on tax policies, EPA regulations, deficit reduction strategies, jobs and the economy.  Nothing new to this agenda fromt he past several Congresses, but now 2012 begins the election season in earnest with the first election (okay caucus) on January 3rd in Iowa and New Hampshire Primary on January 1o. As the campaigns focus on the caucuses and primaries, so too will the rhetoric as the GOP candidates continue to battle for the nomination. Candidates will focus on spending cuts, deficit reduction plans, smaller government, fiscal responsibility and other issues that will lead to new jobs.

While the candidates talk politics, Members of Congress (who also are up for re-election) will talk policy. Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, for example, will focus on overhauling the nation's tax policy, and linking tax policy with job creation efforts. The income tax rates established in the George W. Bush Administration, for example, will expire at the end of 2012. It is the goal of Camp's committee to keep those tax cuts in place.

On Energy & Commerce, another Congressman from Michigan, U.S Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) will look at the FDA and how it regulates food and pharmaceuticals. In addition, Rep. Upton wants to remove the "road blacks" in place to energy devleopment.

Other issues Congress must tackle this year (or just pass an extension which is punting the issue) include the expiring aviation and highway surface transportation bills which expire in January and March, respectively, as well as education reform.

So as Congress begins to tackle an election year agenda it is important for their constituents to keep them accountable and remain focused on getting our country back on track economically, while preserving and protecting our democratic system.

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Winning Again – What Business Wants in 2012

Today’s economy is constantly in flux and despite the advances in technology, we seem to be living in very unstable times. A faltering economy, uncertainty with the markets, a lack of consensus in Congress and among many state legislators, and a lack of funding from the federal and state government where local government can no longer obtain the money they need to provide standard municipal services . While the price of gas continues to fluctuate, unemployment continues to gain.  Although property values in some communities are starting to come back, economic uncertainty continues to grow.  Overal political uncertainty reins as gridlock and political in fighting continue such important issues as tax reform, health care, education, deficit reduction and more.  

There is a leadership vacuum in Washington and in a number of state legislators to provide any direction or resolution to these lingering issue.  There is also a split in the business community.

  • Some want government help with rising health care costs, while others do not.
  • Some want more action on global warming while others do not.

Yet we all agree that something needs to change in order for the economy to improve, sales to increase and jobs to be back in demand.  In fact, where most if not all business folks agree is that they want more jobs and greater certainty in conducting business, as well as for the government to get their act together.

The business sector also want:

  • Tax credits and specfically tax credits for R&D; and,
  • Increased visas for high tech workers to supply a workforce with a skills gap.

At the same time the business community seeks a government that invests in education and finding ways to educate our children in areas that will advance America’s economy.

The business community also wants a government that they can partner with to help move the economy forward. But business does not want to be in a partnership with a government that has a growing deficit with no plan to get out and a government that is not as transparent as it should be.  As we look to end another year, with a potentially devisive election, it is important for all candidates to agree on the big picture as to where they want this country to be one year from now.

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Cutting through the clutter

This week marked the official kickoff of the 2012 Presidential Election. From now until August 2012, we will be bombarded with candidates announcing their candidacy, being critical of each others policies and otherwise complicating the issues that are now before Congress. This already in an age where we are bombarded with information. So much information that we just don't know what to believe. WorldPublicOpinion.org, a project based at the University of Maryland, conducted a study that found "strong evidence that voters were substanitally misinformed on many of the issues prominent in the (2010) election campaign."

Congressional Quarterly featured this issue in this week's edition of CQ Weekly. Despite having access to a lot of information, what this study and a recent CNN-Opinion Research survey found was that there is still a knowledge gap of how much we know what goes on in government and how it impacts our lives. In fact, according to the survey, we do not have a clue about which level of government (local, state or federal) does what and for whom. In fact, according to the CQ article, "President's get blamed for local problems, mayors for national problems." In fact, I would get calls almost every week from Detroitiers when I was the Communications Director for the City of Detroit and Press Secretary to former Mayor Kenneth Cockrel, Jr.  about issues out of the realm of local government. Also, as a  intern for William D. Ford (Ann Arbor) in the 1990's, I would get calls from constituents wanting their street lights fixed.

So as we being a new election cycle, it is important to know what issues are important to you and who is responsible for those issues at either a local, state or federal level. It also is important to reach out to those people and offer your opinion and solution.

In addition, it will benefit you to have a relationship with those individuals so that you can help shape public policy. Retaining a lobbyist or someone who has the connections can prove to be beneficial to you as an individual or as a business. Lobbyists not only know the people involved, they know their personalities and politics surrounding issues. They not only know the policies, they also know the process and can help you navigate above and beyond the rhetoric, to help you achieve your business objectives.

For more information, please contact Daniel Cherrin at dcherrin@fraserlawfirm.comor visit www.fraserlawfirm.com.

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Focus remains on job creation

Just as our children return to school to acquire the skills, knowledge and experience to enter the job market, so to does Congress and state legislatures return to work to create the environment to stimulate job growth. The Federal Agenda In Washington, Congress returns to an agenda that will focus on the "deficit debate," that Democrats will insist must also include measures to create jobs.  According to Congressional Quarterly, "Democrats, especially in the House, are pushing for theJoint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to include jobs initiatives in the legislation that the panel is directed to produce by Nov. 23. Republicans are likely to oppose such proposals, particularly if the cost would add to the federal government’s $14 trillion debt." In fact, Rep. John Larson (D-Conn) has a bill to expand the panel's mandate to include jobs.

The 12-member bipartisan panel, created by the debt limit increase law (PL 112-25), is charged with finding ways to trim the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over a decade. The committee is also free to seek additional savings. The committee is already limited with already established discretionary spending caps and as a result, are expected to focus on finding additional reductions through savings in entitlement programs (ex. Medicare, Medicaid) and tax changes. They will have their first meeting on September 8, the same day the President will speak to Congress laying out the Administration's jobs plan.  They have until January 15 to enact at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction, or across-the-board spending cuts will be triggered.

Congress also will consider a number of regulatory changes to stimulate jobs and reduce the regulatory hurdles of doing business. In fact, in August, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) sent a memo on what those changes will be. The President outlined 7 regulatory changes he wants, including 4 EPA rules and 3 transportation rules.  This includes:

  • A delayed EPA rule restrictions hazardous emissions by coal- and oil-fired electric utility steam generators, at $10 billion.
  • New emissions standards for emissions by major industrial and commercial boilers, $3 billion.
  • Standards for disposal of coal ash from power plants, $0.6 billion to $1.5 billion.
  • New vehicle safety regulations for rear view mirrors, $2 billion.
  • Electronic on-board recorders and documents for supporting restrictions on the hours that commercial truck drivers can operate their vehicles, $2 billion.
  • New hours of service rules for commercial truck drivers, $1 billion.

Republicans are focused on changing some labor regulations Finally Congress will try to work on a few bills dealing with transportation and infrastrucutre, extensions of the Federal Aviation Administration and surface transportation programs. The FAA authroization was quickly extended before Congress left for the summer until September 16 and it seems likely will be extended again as Congress will not have enough time to consider something else. A sticking point in the authorization deals with the right of airline and railroad workers to unionize. Also, subsidies to airlines flying into small airports remain a concern. If Congress fails to act, we can expenct som shutdowns of non-essential government workers at airports, as well as a number of key construction projects put on hold.

As for any movement on projects, the current extension expires September 30 and neither chamber has a bill. As a result, states will not be reimbursed for varous highway and transit projects and some may even suspend the work completely.

Other issues Congress will focus on this Fall, include:

  • Alternative Minimum Tax - if current exemptions expire at the end of this year, many middle and upper-middle class tax payers will see their taxes rise.
  • Defense Authorization - There are a number of questions lingering with the Defense Authorization bill which the Senate still has not acted upon, including: pay for our soldiers, potential upgrades for tanks, tirals for terrorists detained at Guantanamo Bay, potential updates to use of military force and alternatives for the F-35 engine.
  • Doc Reimbursements - Doctors who take medicare patients are scheduled to have their reimbursement rates cuts unless Congress fixes it and fixes it for the long term... not another short term fix. Unless fixes, physicians may choose not to treat Medicare patients.
  • Education Left Behind - Despite some action on re-authorizing education policy in this country, the law (PL 107-110) expired four years ago, with no measures emerging yet in the Senate. If Congress fails to act on implementing new education policies, states will be forced to have all their students be 100 percent proficient in math and reading by 2014 under the existing law or their schools will be labeled failures and be forced to undergo costly restructuring unless the state receives a waiver from the Secretary of Education.
  • Payroll Tax Deductions - Payroll tax for Social Secrutity was reduced for employees with the employer half unchanged. Self-employed individuals also were reduceted. Unless changed, the employee half of the Social Security Tax will increase from 4.2 percent to 6.2.
  • Taxes - Some tax breaks extended under a 2010 tax law expire at the end of this year. This includes tax breaks for R&D.
  • Trade - Congress has yet to approve trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. The issue is how to help American workers displaced by trade. Look out for a new trade agreement between Canada and the EU and how we can take advantage of that in Michigan.

Jobs Debate

While there is agreement between Democrats and Republicans that economic growth and job creation are crucial issues to move forward on, the government's role in that effort is up for debate.  The Democrats want new programs or tax breaks to promote growth while Republicans want regulatory changes and reduce tax burdens on business.

If you can think of any changes to the tax code or ways to improve existing regulations, please comment at the end of this blog or contact us at www.fraserlawfirm.com.  This post also appeared on Fraser Trebilcock's Blog.

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Seeking Consensus Through Controversy

Why do we always have to wait for the last hour before something gets done in Washington? No, I take that back, Congress exceeds the deadline by which to decide on important issues so they or The White House pass extensions on laws, such the Transportation Equity Act or the No Child Left Behind Act or even the budget so they by time before a decision has to be made. The stalemate on what to do about the debt ceiling is no exception and just the status quo. While the Democrats and Republicans have been talking there seems to be an impasse, where no one is agreeing with anybody, even on the most basic of issues. It seems that Washington, needs the support and guidance of a neutral third party to resolve these disputes and bring some closure to a number of long standing issues, most importantly today, the debt ceiling. In public policy dispute resolution, for example, all the interested stakeholders come together with the help of a third party neutral who will assist the stakeholders in reaching consensus.  Public policy dispute resolution provides for a nonpartisan process for resolving public policy disputes, and has proven successful at all levels of government.  In fact, it is emerging as a more effective way of dealing with some of the most polarizing issues.  It leads to innovation, creative solutions and relationship enhancement.  But is that what Democrats and Republicans want?

The National Policy Consensus Center has found that legislators are becoming problem solvers, facilitators and conveners of issues vital to their state. Yet in Washington, D.C., Members of Congress fail each year to come to a consensus on health care, the budget, various re-authorizations and the debt ceiling.

Today, public policy disputes have the potential of polarizing communities with the affect of delaying important decisions on vital issues of public policy, often resulting in diluted policies or no action at all.  Facilitation or mediation helps in resolving some of the high-profile policy disputes and find resolution through controversy and clarity amidst chaos. To assist governments in resolving disputes by and between each other, the disputants need a trusted third party neutral, who is knowledgeable about the issues and the process, while being sensitive to the politics of the day.  A university provides elected leaders with an unbiased academic approach to public policy dispute resolution. Perhaps the President, the Speaker, Senate Majority Leader and their colleagues should turn to a University President or perhaps neutral world leader such as the Prime Minister of Canada or Tony Blair or perhaps co-mediators with former President’s George Bush and Bill Clinton, to help resolve the issues.

Policymakers can avoid making difficult decisions on controversial issues by creating a process by which public policy disputes can be resolved.  Through a facilitated consensual process, issues such as government shutdowns, delayed projects and other missed opportunities can be avoided and we can all move on to other issues to help our nation move forward.

Decisions that are reached collaboratively can result in high-quality outcomes that are easier to implement, receive fewer legal challenges, make better use of available resources, and better serve the public.

Collaboration is not appropriate for all decisions. It is not necessary or recommended to use a formal collaborative process for routine, simple, or urgent decisions. Collaborative processes are often effective when applied to complex policy questions that affect multiple, interdependent interests, where all the diverse parties affected have compelling reasons to engage with one another in a search for a joint policy or program outcome, and where sufficient time and resources are available to support the process.

However, the following conditions help to sustain collaborative processes:

  • Clear Role and Purpose
  • Transparency of Decision-Making
  • Interest-Based Decision-Making
  • Every Effort to Bring Affected Stakeholders into the Process
  • Stakeholders Represents Organized Constituencies
  • Upfront Exploration of Interests
  • Common Understanding of Problems and Joint Fact Finding
  • Policy and Technical Expertise
  • Respectful and Authentic Process
  • Transparency of Products

Washington did not have to wait this long. If the parties talked earlier and learned about the real issues underlying the bigger ones, than perhaps today, we would be talking football instead of debt ceilings. It is time we brought in neutrals to help resolve the bigger issues plaguing our nation.

For more information, please contact Fraser Trebilcock or Daniel Cherrin atdcherrin@fraserlawfirm.com.

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Stand up and get counted

Earlier this week, I completed and mailed in the U.S. Census form on behalf of my family. Despite the issues some may have with the form, it was brief and just took my under ten minutes to complete. While filling out the form may be easy, the importance of during it in cannot be made clear enough. Federal resources will be allocated as a result of the form, lines will be drawn for Congress and other information will be extracted that can help guide our country for the next decade, if not longer.

Last month, the Michigan Association of Society Executives (the assosication for association executives), published an article I wrote in their Monthly Publication.  Here is a copy of the article.

Stand up and get counted

Every 10 years the United States Government sets out to track the nation’s population. The 2010 Census questionnaires will arrive in mailboxes across the country by mid-March, followed by U.S. Census takers going door-to-door to make sure the questionnaires are answered and not ignored.

According to the U.S. Census, “Census information affects the numbers of seats your state occupies in the U.S. House of Representatives. And people from many walks of life use census data to advocate for causes, rescue disaster victims, prevent diseases, research markets, locate pools of skilled workers and more.”  Gaining an accurate count also helps the federal government determine where to allocate funding each year on projects such as infrastructure and services for: hospitals, job training centers, schools, senior centers and the like.

In December 2009, the U.S. Census released preliminary numbers related to the U.S. population and it does not look good for Michigan. The only three states to lose population from July 2008 to July 2009 were Michigan, Maine and Rhode Island. Wyoming showed the largest percentage of growth, followed by Utah, Texas and Colorado.  This means that Michigan will loose a Congressional seat and our clout in Washington. We also will lose federal funding to states such as those that gained population.

Despite our loss, associations should seize this opportunity to take stock of the past 10 years and start planning for next decade.  Associations should take this time and count its members, send out their own “association census” and start going door-to-door and engage members in a discussion about your association.  For example,

  • Why did you join our association?
  • What benefits do you take advantage of the most? the least?
  • Are you involved in a committee? If so, which one and why?
  • Do you attend our events? If so, why?
  • What services are we not providing you that you would like us to look into?
  • What do we do well?
  • What can we do better?
  • Are we communicating enough with you?
  • If not, how would you like to be communicated with?
  • How is our CEO doing?

Well, you get the idea!

The MSAE also can and should get involved. From an association perspective, it can help you help your members count and be counted. It can form a partnership with local Census efforts to help get the word out on why the Census is important and what it means for associations. In addition, the MSAE can help the legislature with its redistricting efforts and help take the politics out of the process by beginning the discussion now on what Michigan should look like and how we should work collaboratively to see our state succeed.

While we have lots to think about as the questioners come to our mailboxes, we also have lots to do -- As association executives, associations and individuals yet to be counted. With Michigan’s anticipated population loss to continue, we will have to work harder to create an environment to attract people back to Michigan, including changing the way people think about our state and the opportunities within it.

As leaders within your own associations and industries, it is your opportunity to take leadership and ownership over Michigan’s future.  With the anticipated population loss, you will need to work harder developing relationships with Members of Congress and their staff, with the different federal agencies and with others whose support we will need to grow. Within the state, we will need your leadership and guidance to help build consensus through controversy and agreement within division. With a new governor and new legislature, it will take leadership to build bridges between disparate interests, organizations and individuals. Finally, within your own association, you will have to work harder to deliver value to your members and continue to be thought leaders and a resource to the community.

The MSAE and your individual association can be that bridge and the voice of reason and calm as politics continues to trump public policy. Now is the time for the MSAE and your association to step to the forefront of tackling emerging concerns with vigor, set the framework for progressive action and create the tone for how we govern ourselves and how we conduct our business in the State of Michigan for the next ten years. So stand up and be counted, our future depends on it.

Daniel Cherrin is the former Communications Director/Press Secretary for the City of Detroit and to Detroit Mayor Kenneth V. Cockrel Jr. He is now President of North Coast Strategies, which provides cutting edge practical advice where government action or inaction, litigation vulnerability or complex regulatory requirements will impact your reputation and bottom-line.  He also in an attorney, lobbyist, public relations professional and a certified-mediator.

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Finding Federal Funds For Local Governments

With funding diminishing from the State of Michigan for local governments, including school districts, municipalities, townships, school districts and other authorities should focus their attention in securing federal funds for their programs, projects and services, instead of wasting their time in Lansing. For example, federal funds are available for local governments for a variety of programs ranging from new buildings to communications equipment for first responders. In FY 2009, the following communities received federal funding: Negaunee, MI for the Croix Street Reconstruction and completion of Phase I. Park City, UT for a Feasibility Study that would bring water from Reclamation facilities. Boise, ID, for design and construction of Boise's geothermal system expansion. Jackson, MS for a Transitional Job Project for job training and employment programs for the Homeless. Oakland, CA for a Green Jobs Initiative. Baltimore, MD, for construction for Healthcare for the Homeless center. Miami, FL for the Miami Green Initiative, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fuel consumption in the city. Milwaukee, WI to improve access to and utilization of primary and preventive health care among low-income residents. The City of Beech Grove, IN, to enhance public safety with in-car cameras and at hot spots in the City to provide real-time feeds to the police command center. Holyoke, MA, to develop a full-service community school pilot project. The City of Shelbyville, IN, to complete the interoperable wireless public safety communications system for first responders. Medford, OR, to provide for the merging of two existing 9-1-1 dispatch centers for police officers. City of Sioux City, Sioux City, IA for meth related training. Moultrie, GA, for technology upgrades, including purchase of equipment and professional development City of Haverhill, MA for various Downtown Streetscape Improvements. Stamford, CT, Waste-to-Energy Project, to convert dried sludge into clean, renewable energy. City of Yonkers, NY Police Department, to reduce non-emergency 9-1-1 calls through the creation of a new public hotline. Albuquerque, NM for their Transit Facility Rehabilitation. City of Ashland, MO Main Street Redevelopment Project. Crystal City, VA Bus Rapid Transit. City of Tuscaloosa, AL Downtown Revitalization Project University Blvd. and Greensboro Avenue. Trenton, NJ for a Renewable Energy Feasibility Study, to examine possible renewable energy sources. Quincy, IL for Hydroelectric Power Generation, and their city's efforts to install hydroelectric plants at locks and dams. Oklahoma City, OK, to continue replacement of Oklahoma's aging communication system. Cincinnati, OH for the complete property acquisition, demolition, and remediation to create an urban industrial park. Craig, AK for the redevelopment of the abandoned cannery property. Milwaukee, WI for the development of supportive housing units for homeless.

In addition, the following school districts will receive federal funding through appropriations: The School District of Lancaster (PA) and Philadelphia School District each received $100,000 Project IMPACT, for abstinence education and related services. Troy High School (PA) received $247,000 for removal and/or replacement of non historic windows, infill, louvers, windows, and fan lights. The Logan Elm School District will receive $48,000 for water infrastructure improvements in Circleville, Ohio. The Hesperia Unified School District, Hesperia, CA, received $98,000 for an after school program for middle school students. The Independence School District, Independence, MO, received $347,000 for before- and after-school programs. The Washoe County School District, NV, received $248,000 for an online assessment and accountability instructional programs and an additional $248,000 for an English Instructional program. The Springfield School District, Springfield, IL, received $94,000 for a middle school history experience. And the City School District of New Rochelle, New Rochelle, NY, received $422,000 for after school and summer school programs, faculty professional development, and parent education workshops. These are just some examples of how local governments and local schools benefited from Congressional appropriations and governmental advocacy in securing additional funds for their community. With limited funding from the state and a declining tax base, the federal government has funding available. It just needs to be identified and advocated for. In fact, cities throughout the country have been receiving federal funds, through grants and earmarks, to help offset the lack of funding from their state. While a number of communities here in Michigan have retained lobbyists to fight for a limited amount of money from the state government, only a few have recognized that more money exists from Washington. To help off set costs associated with retaining a lobbyist, communities can pool their resources, work through their chambers or local economic development organizations and find other creative ways to secure the funding they are no longer receiving from Lansing.

While we sit here in Michigan, trying to convince legislators that one program is more worthy of funding at the sacrifice of another, local government leaders should retain a lobbyist to secure federal funding from Congress. Now is the time to start planning for the next fiscal year and secure the funding necessary to govern. If we do shift our focus to Washington, other communities in other states will.

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Congress to debate energy reform this week

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, today released the text of the Chairman's Mark of the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act (S. 1733), this past Friday. New and revised language in the Chairman's Mark released include:

• Specifies distribution of emissions allowances; • Ensures that the majority of investments in the bill are for consumer protection; • Includes new provisions to address clean coal technology; • Increases investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy; • Reduces greenhouse gas emissions and increases investments in the transportation sector; • Enhances agriculture and forestry provisions; • Directs assistance to rural communities; • Includes greater assistance for small and medium refineries; • Enhances the role of tribes; • Increases the size of the market stability reserve; and • Promotes advanced renewable fuels.

To see a copy of the bill, find it here. To find the differences between the earlier version? For more information on the bill and hearings scheduled for this week, beginning, contact dcherrin@cherrinlawgroup.com.

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Delays in Transit Expected

There is no doubt that Congress has a full agenda. Health care reform has been dominating their time, followed by climate change legislation and issues in the Middle East. The end of its fiscal year is just a few days away and they, like the Michigan Legislature, have yet to pass their funding bills. For example, the current surface transportation law, the Safe, Affordable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act (SAFETEA-LU, P.L. 109-53), was adopted in 2005 and expires on September 30, 2009. To give you some idea of how political this bill was -- When Congress finally passed the last transportation bill in 2005, it took two years and 12 extensions to complete. Although Congress has a bill now drafted, the President wants to put off this measure until after the midterm elections in 2010. A delay in the re-authorization will hinder the planning of transportation projects and perhaps put them in jeopardy of ever getting completed.

At stake is the dwindling Highway Trust Fund, financed by a federal gas tax that pays for repairs to the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. At issue is an effort by Congress and the President to set the nation’s transportation policy for the rest of the decade and perhaps for decades to come. The outcome will be critical to state and local governments that depend on federal assistance to maintain and improve their transportation systems.

The end game will be the creation of a funding mechanism that will ensure the national transportation system will meet the demands of an expanding population while also accommodating the environmental priorities of those who want to see less road congestion, less accidents and more transit options.

For transportation planning organizations it could mean a modern, sustainable and seamless surface transportation network, that fully integrates and connects the nation’s small urban and rural regions with global, metropolitan and neighboring markets. It could also mean increased federal investments in existing and new rural public transportation system, with an emphasis on establishing stronger incentives and program flexibility across the spectrum.

While we will wait for almost a year before Congress will most likely pass a transportation bill, Congress continues to debate issues of transit and transportation. For example, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the “American Clean Energy and Security Act” (H.R. 2454) in June, and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is currently developing their version. Both bill contain provisions affecting transit. Although Congress will not pass a transportation bill until next year, there are still opportunities for transit agencies and organizations to secure resources for a variety of projects through existing bills, and help shape funding for future projects by taking a proactive role in advising Congress on what is important to your agency and community.

Therefore, if you have certain projects that need to be funded or policy related issues that can benefit your program, it is important that you meet with your planning organizations, MDOT, the Governor and your Congressional Delegation to ensure their priorities are your priorities. Then it is important to work with your chambers and other community organizations to build a solid base of support for your projects. Despite a full agenda, Congress needs to hear from you and what you need to provide valuable resources to your community. With limited funds from the state and dwindling budgets all around, it seems that Congress is our only option.

Daniel Cherrin is the former Communications Director/Press Secretary for the City of Detroit and to Detroit Mayor Kenneth V. Cockrel Jr. He is now President of North Coast Strategies, which provides cutting edge practical advice where government action or inaction, litigation vulnerability or complex regulatory requirements will impact your reputation and bottom-line. You can reach Cherrin at dcherrin@NorthCoastStrategies.com or (313) 300-0932.

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Seizing the debate on health care reform to promote your interests

Most of us have seen the town hall meetings that Members of Congress are having on health care insurance reform and the heated discussions (or chants) now taking place. While individuals take issue with the legislation, organizations should seize the opportunity to share their story, to highlight their organization's mission as it relates to the debate and to feature or highlight their members to show by example, what works and what doesn't, or what should be done as a result of the debate. While debating the contents of the legislation is important, it also is a great opportunity to use the debate to promote your organization, your members or your individual company.

While print media is becoming more and more limited, it helps to have a story that is timely, that is relevant and that is interesting. Now is the time to invest in public relations, issues management and relationship building activities to promote your cause and help position your organization for further resources down the road.

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FEDERAL FUNDING IS AVAILABLE FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENTS, BUT FIRST YOU NEED TO ASK!

Last year the President said to the nation’s mayors at their annual conference, "we need to promote strong cities as the backbone of regional growth….we also need to stop seeing our cities as the problem and start seeing them as the solution…strong cities are the building blocks of strong regions, and strong regions are essential for a strong America…" And earlier today in a speech in Indiana the President said, "The battle for America's future will be fought and won in places like Elkhart and Detroit, Goshen and Pittsburgh, South Bend, Youngstown –- in cities and towns across Indiana and across the Midwest and across the country that have been the backbone of America. It will be won by making places like Elkhart what they once were and can be again –- and that's centers of innovation and entrepreneurship and ingenuity and opportunity; the bustling, whirring, humming engines of American prosperity." In fact, President Obama, commonly referred to the Nation's first Mayor President (because he hails from Chicago) created the Office of Urban Affairs and this week, began a national conversation to engage cities and metropolitan areas with an eye towards what works, and a call for an interagency review of how federal policies are impacting local communities. The President has said, "Our job is to advance a new federal vision that recognizes cities and metropolitan areas as dynamic engines for our economy, and develop federal policy built on these strengths."

Yet, municipalities throughout the country have been plagued by cuts in revenue sharing, triggering layoffs, unfunded programs and projects, uncut parks, and reduced or eliminated services. Revenue sharing pays for police officers, fire fighters, road maintenance, water systems, parks and other essential local services. In the past eight years, the State of Michigan has reduced revenue sharing by $3 billion, causing the layoffs of thousands of police officers and fire fighters and cuts to other critical services. Last month, President Obama announced the next phase in developing a new urban agenda including a national conversation to engage cities and metropolitan areas with an eye towards what works, and a call for an interagency review of how federal policies are impacting local communities. Cities throughout the country have been receiving federal funds, through grants and earmarks, to help offset the lack of funding from their state. While a number of communities here in Michigan have retained lobbyists to fight for a limited amount of money from the state government, only a few have recognized that more money exists from Washington. For communities such as Charlevoix, Negaunee, Birmingham, Battle Creek, Detroit, Oakland County and Wayne County have each retained a lobbyist to help them secure funding in Washington. A number of chambers, including the Detroit Regional Chamber, Kalamazoo Chamber, Battle Creek Chamber and Ludington Chamber, have also retained federal lobbyists, as well as a number of DDAs and economic development agencies throughout the country.

While I realize that a majority of local governments do not have the resources to retain a lobbyist, nor is it the most politically correct thing to do, there are still creative ways to secure federal funding for local communities through partnerships with other organizations in the region.

For example, in FY 2009, the following communities will receive federal funding (as an example):

Negaunee, MI for the Croix Street Reconstruction and completion of Phase I. Park City, UT for a Feasibility Study that would bring water from Reclamation facilities to the Park City, Utah area -- Funding would provide additional non-construction support. Boise, ID, for design and construction of Boise's geothermal system expansion. Jackson, MS for a Transitional Job Project for job training and employment programs for the Homeless. Oakland, CA for a Green Jobs Initiative. Baltimore, MD, for construction for Healthcare for the Homeless center. Miami, FL for the Miami Green Initiative, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fuel consumption in the city. Milwaukee, WI to improve access to and utilization of primary and preventive health care among low-income residents. The City of Beech Grove, IN, to enhance public safety with in-car cameras and at hot spots in the City to provide real-time feeds to the police command center. Holyoke, MA, to develop a full-service community school pilot project. The City of Shelbyville, IN, to complete the interoperable wireless public safety communications system for first responders. Medford, OR, to provide for the merging of two existing 9-1-1 dispatch centers for police officers. City of Sioux City, Sioux City, IA for meth related training. Moultrie, GA, for technology upgrades, including purchase of equipment and professional development 100k City of Haverhill, MA for various Downtown Streetscape Improvements. Stamford, CT, Waste-to-Energy Project, to convert dried sludge into clean, renewable energy. City of Yonkers, NY Police Department, to reduce non-emergency 9-1-1 calls through the creation of a new public hotline. Albuquerque, NM for their Transit Facility Rehabilitation. City of Ashland, MO Main Street Redevelopment Project. Crystal City, VA Bus Rapid Transit. City of Tuscaloosa, AL Downtown Revitalization Project University Blvd. and Greensboro Avenue. Trenton, NJ for a Renewable Energy Feasibility Study, to examine possible renewable energy sources. Quincy, IL for Hydroelectric Power Generation, and their city's efforts to install hydroelectric plants at locks and dams. Oklahoma City, OK, to continue replacement of Oklahoma's aging communication system. Cincinnati, OH for the complete property acquisition, demolition, and remediation of the Queen City Barrel area to create an urban industrial park. Craig, AK for the redevelopment of the abandoned cannery property. Milwaukee, WI for the development of supportive housing units for homeless. (Source Office of Management and Budget)

Federal funding is available for a wide-variety of projects, from putting more police officers on the street, fighting gang violence, reducing drug use, updating aging 911 systems, building intermodal facilities, rehabilitating properties or after school programs, the federal government has resources through grants and earmarks available for cities such as yours. As one Congressman once said, "I do not know why various organizations do not ask Congress for help and support of a number of programs." Where an entity has a program that meets a community need, the availability of federal funding is a strong possibility. But first you need to ask.

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Law Firms Must Adjust To Meet Client Demands

From the boardroom to the bedroom, government affects everything we do. So its time to embrace it and learn how we make government work for us. And perhaps more important, in addition to providing our clients with a legal remedy, we must also provide them the opportunity to seek legislative remedies or use the court of public opinion to reach their business objectives. Many clients are turning to law firms to assist in the public policy process, yet many firms are ill equipped to handle government relations and are not well versed in public relations as a legal tactic. Yet it is the lawyer who knows the law and knows what laws would best benefit their clients as well as how to best position their clients in either a court of law or court of public opinion. It is the lobbyist that knows how to effect legislative change and to assist in drafting the right laws. And it is the brand manager, who knows how to position the issue and the client so that everyone emerges a winner.

In addition, with government getting bigger and more complex, and government funding becoming sparse, regional mid-sized law firms are well equipped to create a practice that blends law, media and public relations with the legal expertise many mid-sized firms have.

Also, with budgets getting tighter, the government is seeking greater partnerships with the private sector. With a solid client base, law firms are well-positioned to assist clients in finding creative opportunities within the government and sound private sector solutions for public problems.

More and more issues in Congress and the state legislatures are having a direct impact on business. Businesses are learning that they can no longer sit on the sidelines when government decisions directly impact their future. Likewise, with tough economic times, businesses are looking for new areas to expand. And despite tough economic times, securing a government contract remains one of the most sought after business development opportunities.

Businesses today cannot afford to ignore the legislative process and adjust to new laws once they are passed. To be successful, business must stay current on legislative issues that could have repercussions on their business or industry. They must also seek to effectuate change where appropriate making lobbying, government relations and public affairs a natural extension of the legal services law firms are already providing.

By integrating strategic communications and public affairs into the practice, combining law, policy, politics and strategic communications, attorneys will provide new and existing clients and integrated approach to their legal problems. This practice group will provide firms with new channels to cross-sell firm services and maintain core clients by expanding into new areas to complement your firm’s legal practice. A successful public affairs and strategic communications group will not only help stand out from other law firms, but it will enhance their core practice groups, advance client relations and increase firm profits, while developing new business.

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Congress poised to reauthorize transportation bill despite calls to wait

With a number of items on their plate, such as: Climate Change; Health Care; Financial Market Reform; and Immigration Reform

Congress also is debating how much to spend fixing the nation's transportation system. According to Roll Call, Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.), has been pushing a six-year, $500 billion bill (highway bill) to repair highways, bridges, airports and mass transit systems, among other things. But President Barack Obama and some Members of Congress instead support a smaller, $20 billion extension of current spending that would delay an overhaul for at least another 18 months.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee wants to move the transportation authorization bill forward and pass a bill the President will sign before it expires on September 30, 2009. As a result, the T&I Committee is working hard this week to approve a $3 billion infusion for the Highway Trust Fund. Passing a bill out of committee this week, would set the stage to avoid an extension and continue to keep various projects funded. They argue the reauthorization will create jobs, and allow for the construction of badly needed bridges and roads. Any extension, committee members argue, will leave states unsure as to how to move forward on any project.

The Senate also is poised to pass a bill before their August recess. But the Senate could spoil Oberstar’s plans by passing a bill that provides a short-term fix until they could pass a more comprehensive bill sometime next year.

The President supports waiting. He has a number of priorities that his Administration is working on and want resolved before tackling this important piece of legislation.

Regardless of the outcome, America’s transportation policy is set on a path that favors sustainability and “intermodal” transport. Nonetheless, creative financing must be found to ensure state's like Michigan get their fair share and that funding is secured for projects such:

The M1 Rail project;

Bus improvements in Saginaw;

New buses for the Branch Area Transit Authority; or,

New buses for the Muskegon Area Transit System;

According to Roll Call:

The National Highway System carries 40 percent of all U.S. traffic and 75 percent of truck traffic.

America relies on trucks to deliver nearly 100 percent of our consumer goods and 70 percent of our nation’s freight tonnage.

Over the past 25 years, the number of registered vehicles has increased more than 50 percent, yet new road miles have grown by less than 5 percent and lane capacity has increased by just 6 percent.

According to the Texas Transportation Institute:

Congestion annually costs the U.S. economy $87.2 billion in the form of 4.2 billion lost hours and 2.8 billion gallons of wasted fuel.

If key congestion bottlenecks were eliminated, the trucking industry alone could save 4.1 billion gallons of fuel over 10 years and 45.2 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions. The federal government, in consultation with state and local government and private-sector stakeholders, should tie federal funding to the fulfillment of broad national goals in order to ensure that federal investments are consistent with national priorities. While organizations have been consulting and lobbying Congress for more than a year, it is not to late to join the discussion and offer suggestions as to what the nation's transportation policies should be for the next six years, and how it should be funded. Those affected by transportation policies should work through their trade association and/or individual lobbyists to represent their interests.

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A Second Stimulus

President Barack Obama is moving forward and pushing an aggressive agenda that includes climate change, immigration reform, financial reform and health care reform among others. This week, the President continues to push his health care agenda and Republicans continue to push back, saying, "Now is not the time." There are some in Congress that are also saying, "Now is not the time to talk about a second stimulus bill." However, there is some discussion about introducing a second stimulus bill to help bolster the economy. Such a bill would not come to pass until after Labor Day, however, if the economy does not improve, some further help will be needed and something even more significant than the first one.

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