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The Intergovernmental Challenge in 2017

With the Electoral College having met and Governor Pat McCrory conceding North Carolina’s gubernatorial election, the 2016 election is officially over and it is now time for those elected officials to govern.

Whether it was for the U.S. Senate, the state legislature or city council, candidates for elected office at every level voiced common policy objectives for economic development, job creation, environmental management, and community relations, to name a few. Their positions were studied, dissected and debated over the course of the election. However, not often highlighted during campaigns is the intergovernmental impact and influences between each level of government in achieving policy objectives.

The United States is a republic with a federal government that is structured and empowered according to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. In addition to the Commerce Clause, the 10th Amendment generally outlines the balance of power between the federal and state governments. It states that “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Local governments, with the exception of the District of Columbia, are generally subdivisions of the states, whose governing powers originates within the state’s constitution or charter, or may be granted to it by the state legislature.

The former candidates – now newly sworn-in elected officials – may have shared goals or objectives, as mentioned before, but their approaches towards achieving them frequently differed based on the authority of the office being sought. Their ability to achieve policy objectives and dedicate resources is often contingent on the intergovernmental relationship between levels of government.

Because each level of government can influence the other in successful policy development, particularly in relation to federal or state preemption of local authority, the collaboration and cooperation between federal, state and local units of government can play a pivotal role in achieving policy objectives. Substantive disagreements and, particularly, partisan politics can strain intergovernmental relationships that may impede legislative action or policy development.

The intergovernmental challenge on public policy development is reflected in a recent letter to President-elect Trump from 49 mayors and two mayors-elect representing the U.S. Mayor’s National Climate Control Agenda. The letter expresses interest in working in “partnership” with the new administration to address climate change, but concludes with a subtle cautionary note: “While we are prepared to forge ahead even in the absence of federal support, we know that if we stand united on this issue, we can make change that will resonate for generations. We have no choice and no room to doubt our resolve. The time for bold leadership and action is now.”

These tensions within government may be enhanced by the laws and policies enacted by the other, particularly in relation to public funds and resources, which can often lead to a greater emphasis on commercial real estate and the private sector in order to make up the difference in achieving public policy objectives. For example, local affordable housing advocates in Pittsburgh have raised the reduction in federal resources from HUD’s Community Development Block Grant program and the HOME Investment Partnerships program as a basis for mandated inclusionary zoning and affordable housing trust fund fees.

Because of the intergovernmental impact on government policy, comprehensive legislative strategies are needed this year, at every level of government, in order to educate lawmakers and ensure the voice of commercial real estate is heard prior to casting a vote. Grasstops advocacy by NAIOP members is an important component of this comprehensive strategy that, at times, will include meeting with local officials on a federal issue, such as the debate on federal tax reform, in order to educate and gain their support by weighing in with their federal representatives in Washington, D.C.

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