Nov. 10, 1997 - To The Mayor From The Executive Director
J. Thomas Cochran, Executive DirectorNovember 10, 1997
Pocketbook issues dominated many local and state elections that took place yesterday. In the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial races, taxes were the main issue.
Recently, the Republican leaders in Congress drew an incredible public response when they took the IRS to task. The Clinton Administration flipped from its hands-off approach when Treasury Secretary Rubin decided to join with the Congressional leaders to correct the unfair IRS tactics we all learned about in the recent Congressional hearings.
Taxes - what your voters pay and what they get in return - will continue to be a part of the political discussion in the 1998 mid-term elections.
Some state and local government organizations here in Washington, including the Conference of Mayors, have taken a position in opposition to tax-free purchases on the Internet. It is a somewhat dangerous position to put our elected officials in especially if they are seeking reelection. But we must speak out. The fact is that if consumers do go to the Internet to avoid state and local taxes, major shifts in the way services are provided by local government will result. The loss of revenue to the Internet may cause state and local government to tax in a different way, through unusual user fees and the like.
The tax questions that continue to face us mean that we must build a resource within our state and local groups - the Big 7 - to help our state and local officials accept new technologies and find ways that we can create opportunities for local governments which face incredible technological change. We are a nation that is increasingly using the Internet to buy stuff. Everyday we see new ways for Americans to use the Internet. Groceries are being purchased and delivered and, if this continues, there may come a day when even large retail supermarkets are bypassed by the electronic superhighway.
State and local organizations - our Big 7 - are discussing this issue of Internet taxation, trying to develop a viable bipartisan political strategy. I have spoken within the Big 7 about a more in-depth political approach to how we deal with the tax-free Internet phenomenon. I will continue to advocate a more rational political discussion on this issue. When we came out a few years back decrying the fact the people were avoiding sales taxes through mail-order catalogues, we got killed on Capitol Hill because senior citizens and a lot of others flooded the Congress with letters supporting the position that catalogue purchases should not be taxed.
So we have a lot of work to do on the Internet taxation issue. We must have an assessment of what the sales tax loss from the Internet will mean in terms of lost dollars and services at state and local government levels. Once the loss is estimated, we will have to learn from each other, and even from the private sector, how to further streamline to continue to produce the quality basic services your voters demand of you.
Conference President Fort Wayne Mayor Paul Helmke met recently with New York Congressman Sherwood Boehlert to endorse his efforts to pass brownfields legislation. At issue is $85 million for the EPA to distribute to local governments for brownfields assessment and clean up. The Conference of Mayors will launch our public education campaign next month and we will go forward with a "recycle our land" message. This message has proved most successful in North Carolina; we witnessed the results of their effort when Conference President Helmke went to Charlotte last month, along with other Mayors, to learn what Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory is accomplishing there with the help of the state legislature and the Charlotte banking community. While in Charlotte we participated in the first brownfield development under the new North Carolina brownfields statute.
Within the Conference staff we have a team working to support our Brownfield Task Force Chairs, Mayors Chris Bollwage of Elizabeth, Charles Box of Rockford and Lee Clancey of Cedar Rapids.
In addition to the leadership we have received on the brownfields issue from Conference President Helmke, we now have the large urban counties as strong allies. And this year one of the Ford Foundation and Harvard Innovations Awards went to Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge for his brownfields initiatives in Pennsylvania.
Last spring, Chicago Mayor Daley brought mayors and the business community together in his City to teach others about how to use the abandoned land within cities to develop thriving centers of economic opportunity for city dwellers.
HUD Secretary Cuomo has been a champion on this issue, reminding us that the "D" in HUD means development in cities and challenged close-in suburbs. He has $25 million in next year's budget for brownfields development. These monies will be used for certain cities which have brownfields that are not in the richest locations. Seed money is needed in some cities to help bring the developers and business community to the table with local government for discussion and action.
All the factors mentioned above tell me that we have the political elements in place for an aggressive campaign supported by the Administration, the Congress, the business community, county officials and governors. Our brownfields staff team will continue to develop a bipartisan strategy for Congressional action and a Clinton signature. With your help, we will do it.
Mayor Abramson/New York Times
Congratulations to Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson for the great piece which appeared in the New York Times on November 4. It illustrates what one mayor can do to make his city thrive with new industry. The Mayor has been in the forefront of the new breed of entrepreneurial mayors who now dominate our organization. He was talking and walking regionalism when regionalism wasn't cool. I remember a few years ago when he told the new mayors at our Harvard School that he had reached out with his county Jefferson County to other counties, including some in Indiana, across the state line, to create the economic base in Louisville that all citizens in that region enjoy.
NLC Meeting December 2-6
I look forward to seeing you at the National League of Cities meeting in Philadelphia. NLC Executive Director Don Borut and NLC President Mark Schwartz, along with Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell and NLC incoming President Councilman Brian O'Neill, have all worked hard to produce an exciting schedule of activities. All are delighted that General Colin Powell is speaking in Philadelphia.
The Conference of Mayors has had opportunities to participate in a number of state league meetings this year, and we look forward to new opportunities to learn at the big one in Philadelphia next month.
Copyright © 1996, US Conference of Mayors, All rights reserved.