White House Trip Update

Today I had the pleasure of going to the White House with approximately 50 other Illinois Mayors from around the state.

It was very interesting and enlightening.  I give high praise to the Trump Administration for seeking feedback from local government officials and listening to what we had to say.  One of my colleagues indicated that this is the first administration that has sought this feedback in the 25 years he has been in office.  He had similar praise for this administration, though politically, he is on the opposite side of the aisle.  In fact, all of the mayors were impressed.  Some of the people who spoke to us had been in government for a long time and told us that one of the best things that this administration has brought to the table are people who have a private sector perspective and see things through a “different lens”.

Specifically, I will walk you through some of key takeaways.

The EPA indicated that it is making an effort to streamline processes and cleanup brownfield sites that have been abandoned and toxic for decades.

The Department of Transportation talked about the infrastructure programs that they are working on and how they too are working to speed up processes.  He also talked about the fact that autonomous vehicles will be here sooner than anyone thought (and they are working on that).  One known problem is that different government agencies give competing opinions on projects.  For example, putting in an off ramp takes 10+ years due to bounding around from agency to agency.  They are working to streamline this process to 2 years and be one-stop-shop.

I talked to the Veterans Administration about the resources we had in Orland Park to help vets, particularly those transitioning back to civilian life, but that we didn’t know who was leaving the service.  From my perspective, as a veteran, the best thing we can do for veterans is to help them transition back to civilian life successfully.  This will result in much less burden on the V.A. in the future.  Additionally, the Mayor from Quincy praised the Federal Veterans Administration for all of their help in their current crisis in Quincy – which has not been reported by the press.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development pointed out that they are implementing metrics to determine the success of their programs (which they’ve never had).  Unbelievable, but true.  Some of the metrics include how long people are staying in housing and how many families transition from public housing to owning homes.  This is a much needed and long overdue approach.  (When we do our strategic planning this year, I have been preaching about the need to have metrics and performance measures.  It is high time that we do this at all levels of government).

The Special Assistant to the President for Infrastructure also spoke to us. His sole focus is infrastructure.  He pointed out that the federal government owns 8% of infrastructure, funds 14% and permits 100% (and can take over a decade to permit).  Also, funding tends to be earmarked to certain projects.  Instead, their goal is to give local governments more flexibility in using those funds and more decision-making authority (since state and local governments provide 86% of the funding).  This is great for Orland Park because when we can find ways to creatively fund projects, we can move forward with them rather than wait for the federal government to fund it.  This program is not substituting for current funding programs, but is supplementing it.   Their goal is also to encourage regional cooperation.  (This is something I have been working on diligently since taking office and making good strides.)

The Deputy Chief of Staff was very informative.  I found him to be direct and plain spoken which was refreshing.  He pointed out that on of the President’s Executive Orders requires two regulations to be removed for every regulation added.  He said, in fact, that they have averaged Twenty-Two regulations removed for each new regulation added.  This is going to help the business community.  He also indicated that the recent tax bill wasn’t the end of tax reform.  The President wants to continue streamlining our tax system going forward.  We also had a good discussion about high tax states (like Illinois) need to reexamine their spending.  All of the Mayors agreed with this.  Illinois revenue as at an all-time high, yet the budget is still not balanced.  The State is trying to balance it by taking from local government entities and schools.  Regardless of political affiliation all of the Mayors know that the state has a Spending Problem not a Revenue Problem and is fiscally irresponsible.  The Deputy Chief of Staff also pointed out that the Federal government leads the way in that department.  He also stated that the President’s goal is to get federal dollars to local government rather than the feds dictating local decision making.  This is great news for Orland Park.

Overall, everyone was impressed with the efforts to streamline government, reduce regulations and bring an outside perspective to the federal government.  We also appreciated the goal of local governments getting more autonomy on using federal funds for infrastructure and reducing the permitting processes.  The entire group praised the administration’s outreach which is apparently a first.  Lastly, it was great to have these conversations first hand without media manipulation and/or bias that appears to be present in most media sources these days.  Mayors know that communities we serve expect us to solve problems and leave the politics behind after elections.  We are expected to govern.  This session was good governing and was very informative and helpful.