Washington Snapshot

Washington Snapshot: House Education and Labor Committee Approves Higher Education Overhaul; New York Lawmakers study response to federal government shutdowns

Friday, November 1, 2019 - 3:15 pm EDT

In This Week's Edition of Snapshot...

Congress IconNews from the Hill

More Tax Measures Unlikely by Year’s End

Lawmakers are finalizing their wish lists of tax measures to pass this year, but there are still lots of questions about how or if those could move through Congress. POLITICOPRO reports the top Republican of the Ways and Means Committee, Kevin Brady (R-TX) is signaling that the prospects are dim for passing tax legislation this year because of Democrats spending demands. He indicated that talks on tax extenders are “slow going.” In addition to extenders, a year-end bill could include technical corrections to the tax overhaul bill from 2017 and a repeal or delay of Affordable Health Care Act-related taxes.

Another Government Shutdown?

ROLL CALL reports that Republicans are continuing to insist that the federal government will not shut down because Congress will pass the 2020 spending bills by November 22. However, that was also their position last year when the longest government shutdown in history occurred over Democrats' refusal to fund President Trump’s border wall. Without action, the government will shut down on Nov. 22.

But There May Be Hope…Senate Progresses Somewhat on 2020 Spending Bills

The Senate took a first step yesterday to advance some government funding for 2020, passing a bipartisan package of bills that would pay for the operations of major agencies, such as Agriculture, Transportation and Interior. But failure later in the day to move ahead on a larger bundle of funding measures highlights the partisan disputes that impede decisions on most of the government spending bills, especially over President Donald Trump's border wall.

Senate Vote Fails to Start Debate over Defense and Social Programs Bills

Democrats overwhelmingly objected to beginning debate on the proposed four-bill package, H.R. 2740 (116), which included the Defense, Labor-HHS-Education, State-Foreign Operations and Energy-Water spending measures for fiscal 2020. Democrats protested that Republican leaders have not engaged the chamber’s minority party in negotiating bipartisan spending levels. They also argued that their GOP colleagues have unilaterally set unreasonably low totals for measures, like the Labor-HHS-Education bill, at a 1 percent increase over current funding levels, while the Energy-Water bill, S. 2470 (116), would get a more than 9 percent boost.

12% Cut in Public Transportation Funding Averted

The Senate today adopted an amendment to the "minibus" (packaging all or a number of appropriation bills together) appropriations bill, H.R. 3055 (116), to head off an automatic 12 percent across-the-board cut to transit agencies. Funding losses to states could run from $7.2 million in Alabama to $175 million in California. This could impact the funding available to municipalities for local systems as well. However, the Senate vote meant that the cut has been averted for now.

House Education and Labor Committee Approves Higher Education Overhaul

Democrats on the House Education and Labor Committee on Thursday advanced a roughly $400 billion plan to revamp federal, higher education policy after deliberations this week. The sweeping legislation calls for implementing tuition-free community college, increasing Pell Grants and other forms of student aid, expanding public service loan forgiveness and allowing existing federal student borrowers to lower their interest rates.

Republicans opposed the measure, criticizing the overall increase in federal spending on higher education in the bill as well as what they said was too much emphasis on four-year degrees at the expense of career and technical training. GOP lawmakers also took issue with provisions of the legislation that targeted for-profit colleges.

The committee voted 28-22 to approve the Democrats’ bill, H.R. 4674 (116), to reauthorize the Higher Education Act. The measure now heads to the House floor. Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) is hoping to pass the bill by the end of the year.

Ways and Means Committee Closed-Door Meeting on Opportunity Zones

Ways and Means Committee lawmakers held a bipartisan closed-door meeting on October 29 with civic and business leaders to learn more about how their communities are benefiting from the new Opportunity Zone program that was established as part of the Tax Cut & Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA). Opportunity Zones are designed to attract investors to economically distressed areas nationwide in exchange for capital gains tax breaks after ten years.

There is keen interest in measuring the impact the tax incentives are having on economic development. Critics have forecast more benefits for rich investors than poor residents of the Zones. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), a leading supporter of adding reporting requirements to the Opportunity Zone program, along with Sen. Cory Booker, said he could get behind the idea of attaching transparency language to a possible year-end tax bill.

Executive & Regulatory News IconExecutive & Regulatory News

Treasury Department Announces New Opportunity Zone Reporting Requirements

The Treasury Department yesterday (10/31), announced plans to begin collecting details about investments being made in the government's new "Opportunity Zone" program. The department released a proposed tax Form 8996 that require Opportunity Zone funds to report the employer identification number of each business in which it is invested. The move is intended to fill a void left when provisions establishing reporting requirements for the program, created as part of the 2017 tax overhaul, were struck by the Senate's parliamentarian as a violation of the chamber's rules. That decision created an unusual situation where Congress had drawn up a potential costly program with no way of measuring how well it would work. Treasury has struggled for months over what sort of metrics it ought be to tracking with the initiative.

Many organizations, including the 20 foundation presidents of the Presidents' Council of the US Impact Investing Alliance foundations, pressed the agency to analyze a range of factors — everything from whether affordable housing will become scarce in the Zones to are employers paying a "living wage" — saying detailed data is imperative to understanding what difference the program is making.

Treasury said this type of data collection went well beyond the sort of information Treasury and the IRS normally collected. These agencies typically focus on administering the tax code — not quantifying economic activity. Developers and other investors have pushed back against calls for detailing reporting requirements, calling them onerous. Those looking for more granular data are likely to be disappointed by Treasury's action yesterday.

Education Department 2019 NAEP

Secretary Betsy DeVos declared that America is in a “student achievement crisis” in a speech Wednesday at the National Press Club. DeVos was reacting to recently released data on the student achievement in the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress report (NAEP) , which is often referred to as the “nation’s report card”.

The Secretary described an “antiquated approach” to education that she claims fails too many children despite increased per-pupil spending over the last 30 years. She called on states to “pivot to a policy of freedom” to help students improve. Devos is a proponent of expanding school choice policies like tax-credit scholarships. In response, senior House appropriator Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) asked Secretary DeVos to support their efforts to boost federal education funding, instead of the Trump Administration’s call for $8.5 billion in spending cuts.

State Policy IconHappening in the States

New York Lawmakers study response to federal government shutdowns

With another potential federal government shutdown looming, New York legislators took stock of the state’s response to last winter’s 35-day stoppage at a hearing on Tuesday and sought to come up with ideas for dealing with a potential next shutdown.

New York took a number of steps to minimize the mostrecent disruption, including enacting legislation NYA00881(19R) allowing local governments to offer federal employees a 90-day extension to pay their property tax, using state money to keep federally run tourist sites like Ellis Island open, allowing affected students of New York’s public university systems to delay tuition payments, and accelerating the release of monthly SNAP benefits. But, some of these scenarios may not be able to repeat. Many other states will likely find themselves in this position as well.

With the federal government currently operating under a stopgap measure (“continuing resolution”), set to run out on November 21, events in Congress, especially the impeachment hearings, could derail the efforts to come up with another extension to keep the government funded.

Exclusive from our Colleagues at the National Council of Nonprofits

National Council of Nonprofits

Election Day 2019

This coming Tuesday, November 5, is Election Day in many jurisdictions as voters will opt for candidates for public office in some states and decide the fate of numerous ballot measures in a few more. Voters in Mississippi, New Jersey, and Virginia will pick winners in nearly 400 seats in their legislatures. Gubernatorial races are being held in Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Six additional states are holding elections to consider twenty statewide ballot measures. Taxes, criminal justice, redistricting, affordable housing, disability rights as well as funding for transportation, education and flood infrastructure are all hot topics. Oklahoma voters will consider Medicaid expansion after grassroot supporters managed to collect nearly twice the number of signatures needed. Colorado voters will decide whether to pare back the austere budgeting restrictions known as Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR). If successful, the measure would repeal the mandatory taxpayer refund provision in the law and shift any surplus revenues to public schools, higher education and transportation. Local ballot measures range from dozens of tax advisory notes to help shape policy and fund the state operating budget in Oregon to 45 ballot measures across California, including one to restrict campaign contributions and require certain disclaimers.

Nonprofit Nonpartisanship Solidified Under State Law

This month, New York Governor Cuomo signed legislation that updates state tax law to include the current federal version of the Johnson Amendment that prohibits foundations, charitable nonprofits, and houses of worship from endorsing or opposing candidates for public office. New York codified the Johnson Amendment years ago but hadn’t included the tougher federal language enacted in 1987. In signing the bill, the Governor stated, "New Yorkers have a right to free and fair elections, and this law will further protect our democracy from unjustified interferences once and for all.” Learn more about the Johnson Amendment and the values of nonprofit nonpartisanship.

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