CLEARWATER – Like many cities its size, Clearwater has hired a lobbyist to represent its interests in Washington. And city officials are in the final stages of giving him his marching orders in the form of a 35-page document called the 2014 Federal Legislative Agenda.
‘It’s really a collaboration between (the city’s) staff and the lobbyist,” Clearwater’s City Clerk, Rosemarie Call, told the Clearwater City Council at its May 1 meeting.
Clearwater’s lobbyist is Greg Burns, vice president of the Washington-based firm of Scoyoc Associates Inc. His firm represents 17 municipalities and entities in Florida, California, Texas and Oregon.
In the category of “water resources,” the city wants continued federal support of the Stevenson Creek Estuary Restoration Project and a doubling, from $5 million to $10 million, of the Water Resources Development Act limit on federal grants for such projects.
“Under the heading of ‘Clearwater Pass maintenance dredging,’ Clearwater wants the Army Corps of Engineers to continue adequate annual funding for the project and hopes to get “additional funding specifically provided for ‘small, remote or subsistence navigation’ dredging activities.”
The city will also ask Burns to monitor the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule on American waters and oppose any changes that “could lead to unrealistic and over- burdensome regulations that would negatively affect local communities.”
The section entitled “general and local government issues” instructs Burns to “monitor changes to flood insurance rates for homeowners and businesses in the city of Clearwater,” monitor FEMA’s implementation of the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, support efforts to fix any unintended consequences of that act, and “improve the National Flood Insurance program for the benefit of all participants.”
That section also tells Burns to oppose any legislation that would threaten the tax-exempt status of state and local bonds, including a 28-percent cap on tax-exempt municipal bonds. And it instructs him to oppose any legislation that would exempt travel brokers from paying taxes on the full room rate paid by the consumer, “thereby costing Pinellas County the opportunity to collect appropriate transient occupancy taxes from visitors to the region.” It further orders him to monitor federal legislative proposals related to public pensions “which could significantly impact the Clearwater employees’ pension fund.”
In the “transportation” category, Burns will monitor any proposed changes to federal transit and highway programs and will also monitor any efforts to enhance federal transportation revenue streams. In addition, he will support any measures that will help Clearwater secure funding for its high-priority transportation projects, as well as supporting the 50-cents per gallon equivalent tax incentive for natural gas used as motor fuel.
The only unresolved issue of the session also involved transportation. The council postponed a decision on whether to formally go on the record as opposing a trucking industry proposal to allow giant tractor trailer trucks, each towing as many as three huge trailers, on interstate highways and other major thoroughfares. The matter probably would not affect Clearwater directly because the big rigs would most likely not be allowed on U.S 19 or other highways within the city. But repeat visitors who drive to Clearwater every year might be intimidated by sharing the road with the monster trucks and either switch to another mode of transportation, vacation elsewhere or stay home.
The “public safety” section instructs Burns to “support at least level funding” for several federal grants related to policing, firefighting and other public safety matters and also support Clearwater’s applications for such grants.
In the ‘economic development and social services” category, the council instructed Burns to support both the Community Development Block Grants and the HOME Investment Partnership programs “because of their critical role in the city’s overall efforts to support those who are least fortunate.” He was also directed to support the EPA Brownfields Program, EPA housing programs for the elderly and disabled, HUD grants for the homeless, and continued funding for the economic development administration and its grants to Clearwater.
The final category, “energy and environment,” instructs Burns to “monitor the potential expansion of offshore energy exploration in Florida federal waters” and to “support a $900 million annual appropriation from the land and water conservation fund, including at least $100 million for the state grant program.”