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Director's Comments

By Brad Cole, Executive Director

This issue of Review magazine will cover several topics related to the Congress and our federal advocacy program.

When our members think of the work we do promoting or opposing legislation, they often think solely of our Illinois-focused agenda and the work we do every day at the Capitol in Springfield. What many people do not realize is that we are also very active in Washington D.C., pursuing federal legislation to likewise benefit our members. In fact, the Illinois Municipal League (IML) is seen as one of the leaders among the other state municipal leagues in identifying and addressing issues at the national level. We are often looked to for assistance, and we are engaged regularly with our partners at the National League of Cities (NLC), the US Conference of Mayors and other national organizations that serve local government interests.

Part of the IML’s annual legislative agenda is dedicated to issues at the national level. This year, we are specifically working to protect the tax exempt status of municipal bonds (if there is a rewrite of the voluminous tax code), seeking to modify overly-restrictive regulations through the upcoming Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization, and continuing our efforts to pass either the Marketplace Fairness Act or the Remote Transactions Parity Act (both commonly referred to as Internet sales tax). It can understandably be much harder to move a legislative agenda through Congress, as compared to the Illinois General Assembly in a normal year, but it is none-the-less important for Illinois cities, villages and towns. This is especially true because so many local officials do not have the time or resources to travel to Washington to meet with their federal representatives. This is where IML fills an important role and is eager to do so.

In these efforts, we are fortunate to have a very helpful and open delegation of Senators and Representatives in the Congress. There has never been an issue with gaining access to any of Illinois’ federal elected officials, and we are in regular contact with many of them on a number of topics.  We communicate with Congressional staff in both their district offices and their Washington offices, and we are often a resource for them when needing feedback on critical matters or when seeking to contact mayors and local officials. As a former employee of the U.S. Senate, I know first-hand how important it is to effectively utilize the time and interests of federal legislators and I think the League is among the best at doing so along our line of work.

This coming year will also mark the start of a new era under President Donald J. Trump. How President Trump will approach local government issues is yet to be seen, so we stand ready to work with the National League of Cities and U.S. Conference of Mayors through their interaction with the Administration, in addition to doing so independently when and how possible. We have been involved to some degree in transition-related tasks over the past two months, and we will have more involvement as the President’s key advisors are named and positions are filled in the White House Office of Intergovernmental Relations.

When I was serving as mayor, I once asked city staff why we couldn’t get a particular project done that would benefit our community’s residents. I was told somewhat curtly that it would require an Act of Congress. Luckily, I said, paraphrasing myself here, we had a Congressman, and that’s all we needed in order to try. We did try, and we were successful in achieving the goal (and it did take an Act of Congress to get it done!). While we may not always be successful in pushing major federal legislation that impacts communities across the nation, you can rest assured that IML will always try.