Capitol to Capitol
An Information Service of NCSL's Standing Committees

Volume 18   Issue 40 - November 11, 2011
 

STATES HEAD TO THE “MARKETPLACE.”

On Nov 9, 2011, five Democratic and five Republican Senators introduced the “Marketplace Fairness Act,” NCSL-endorsed legislation authorizing states that either comply with the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement or enact a series of minimum simplifications outlined in the legislation to collect taxes on remote sales. In its letter of endorsement, NCSL stated that S. 1832 will “provide states with some fiscal relief” to partially temper cuts of hundreds of billions of dollars in federal discretionary and entitlement programs resulting from the Budget Control Act and anticipated actions of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. NCSL’s letter calls the legislation “a win for local main street businesses throughout the country by leveling the playing field between main street businesses …and out-of-state merchants…” It was signed by Kansas Senator and NCSL President Stephen Morris and Massachusetts Senator and NCSL Immediate Past-President Richard Moore. Text of NCSL’s letter is available here: http://www.ncsl.org/default.aspx?TabId=23841. S. 1832 contains a small business exemption and removes liability for businesses collecting sales taxes. Leading sponsors of the legislation include Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander and South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson. Joining them as original co-sponsors are Arkansas Senators John Boozman and Mark Pryor, Rhode Island Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, Missouri Senator Roy Blunt and Tennessee Senator Bob Corker. State legislators should contact their U.S. Senators and ask them to co-sponsor S. 1832 and encourage them to recommend including the legislation’s provisions in any agreement reached by the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. NCSL staff contacts: Neal Osten, Max Behlke


THREE PERCENT, TWO VOTES, ONE TO GO

States are one vote away from eradication of an unfunded federal tax mandate likely to cost billions in administrative costs and increased vendor charges. The U.S. Senate approved the NCSL-supported H.R. 674 on a 95-0 vote yesterday. The House previously passed it 405-16. It repeals a six-year old, implementation-delayed federal tax provision requiring all governments to withhold three percent of all vendor contracts. NCSL and other government associations and businesses have sought repeal to avoid the increases in service and contract costs estimated by the Congressional Budget Office. The legislation gives states additional relief by correcting income determinations used to qualify for Medicaid and other state-federal programs. H.R. 674 goes back to the House with floor amendment language containing a slice of President Obama's jobs plan. That provision offers businesses tax credits for employing out-of-work veterans and funds retraining programs for older, unemployed veterans. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has scheduled a vote on the amended H.R. 674 next week. NCSL staff contacts: Michael Bird, Jeff Hurley


BROADCAST NEWS

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has named three legislators to serve a two-year term on its Intergovernmental Advisory Committee (IAC). Beginning December 2, 2011, Connecticut Representative Chris Perone, Kansas Representative Thomas Sloan and Maryland Delegate Michael Vaughn will work with 12 other representatives of local, state and tribal governments to provide guidance and recommendations to the FCC. The IAC will work towards implementing broadband adoption and public safety communications, among other topics. NCSL staff contact: James Ward


PLEA FOR HELP

On Tuesday, NCSL provided written testimony to the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee’s hearing, Beyond No Child Left Behind: Views on the Elementary & Secondary Education Act, regarding the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The statement applauded certain efforts Congress has made for ESEA reauthorization. While the testimony describes several concerns NCSL has with the federal government intruding on states’ ability to fund and administer public education, it also recognizes the pending reauthorization “represents a mostly positive step in correcting some of the worst imbalances of a well-intended but flawed federal law.” Idaho Senator John Goedde and Hawaii Representative Roy Takumi, co-chairs of NCSL’s Education Committee, submitted the testimony. It can be viewed here:   http://www.ncsl.org/default.aspx?tabid=23834. NCSL staff contacts: Lee Posey, Michael Reed


SENATORS PUT TRANSPORTATION BACK ON THE “MAP.”

Reauthorization opportunities and bipartisanship are not dead. Wednesday’s 18-0 vote in the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee breathes new life into a major reworking and funding of state-federal highway, mass transit, bridge and highway safety programs. The two-year, $109 billion package nicknamed “MAP-21” (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century) awaits related action by three other committees with jurisdiction before competing for Senate floor time. MAP-21 consolidates approximately 90 programs to under 30, drops “core” highway programs from seven to five and provides $1 billion for the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program. It also encourages state infrastructure banks (passes on the President’s recommendation for a National Infrastructure Bank), excludes earmarks, creates a national freight network program and mandates state surface transportation performance measurements. It reforms the federal Transportation Enhancements program (bike paths, welcome centers, scenic easements, pedestrian walkways and others) and provides states with more flexibility for using the funds. Projected gas tax revenues leave MAP-21 an estimated $12 billion shy of the $109 billion target, a hurdle Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus intends to overcome with unidentified offsets. Failure to find the $12 billion in offsets would lower the legislation’s funding “promises.” House Republicans have suggested enhanced domestic energy production as an offset, but California Senator Barbara Boxer, chair of the Senate EPW Committee, has rejected that avenue outright. While the House and Senate have significant reauthorization and funding differences, at least some harmony has resurfaced with an issue that has typically found bipartisan favor. NCSL staff contacts: Molly Ramsdell, Helen Narvasa


NCSL COMMENTS ON HEALTH EXCHANGES

Calls for state flexibility, avoiding preemption and expanding the State Partnership’s proposal to include all core functions of health benefit exchanges highlight NCSL’s comments on a proposed health exchange rulemaking. NCSL submitted comments on Oct. 31, 2011, in response to a Centers for Medicaid and Medicaid Services regulatory notice to carry out this key component of federal health care reform. NCSL’s comments are available here: http://www.ncsl.org/IssuesResearch/Health/FederalGuidanceandRegulatoryActions/tabid/23413/Default.aspx. Also, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is hosting a series of regional listening sessions seeking comments on establishing an essential benefits package. Four sessions have been conducted and a half dozen more are scheduled before Thanksgiving. These additional six sessions will be conducted in New York City, Kansas City, Atlanta, Seattle, Denver and San Francisco. NCSL staff contacts: Joy Johnson Wilson, Rachel Morgan


BABY IT’S COLD OUTSIDE

With winter weather on the horizon, lawmakers are pushing for appropriate funding for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). A bipartisan group of 33 senators wrote to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius requesting she rapidly provide LIHEAP funding. Eighty-eight House Democrats sent a letter to members of the House Appropriations Committee urging them to fund the program at the 2011 fiscal year level of $4.7 billion. President Obama had requested $2.6 billion for LIHEAP in his fiscal year 2012 release. The House-passed Labor-HHS-Education spending bill would provide $3.4 billion. In separate action, on Oct. 28, Secretary Sebelius released $1.7 billion in LIHEAP funding for the first quarter to states, tribes and territories as authorized in the current continuing resolution legislation. The HHS press release is available here: http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2011pres/10/20111028a.html. NCSL staff contacts: Sheri Steisel, Emily Wengrovius