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Three Tompkins Legislators Return from White House Conference

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Three Tompkins Legislators Return from White House Conference

Friday, August 24, 2018

Tompkins County Legislature Chair Martha Robertson, and Legislators Deborah Dawson and Anne Koreman are reporting back following their invited visit to the White House, where they participated in a half-day conference involving members of the Trump Administration and county officials from New York and New Jersey.

Legislators appreciated the chance to hear from high-level representatives of several White House offices and federal agencies. The numerous agency and administration officials who participated included such high-level administrators as Douglas Hoelscher, Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Intergovernmental Affairs; Amelia Breinig, from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative; and Assistant to the President and Senior Counselor Kellyanne Conway.

Opioid and agriculture issues figured prominently in the presentations.  Legislator Koreman said, “They spoke a lot about decentralizing control and passing it down to counties, so I asked Education Department Assistant Secretary Frank Brogan about federal funding for local programs—such as skills training for those who don’t complete high school, retraining for people who have lost manufacturing jobs, and supporting unions in their apprenticeship programs.  He answered that they’re working out the details.”

Ja’Ron Smith, Special Assistant to the President, White House Office of Legislative Affairs, described the administration’s Opportunity Zones, meant to bring new capital investment into low income Census tracts.  Investors will be able to avoid capital gains tax on development in low income neighborhoods.  Legislator Dawson asked whether the Opportunity Zone program could be used to incentivize affordable housing.  He said details are not finalized, so he could not share them.  In a subsequent conversation, Tompkins County Deputy Director of Planning and Sustainability Megan McDonald told the Legislators that, unlike with the existing Low Income Tax Credit program for affordable housing, states will have no role in approving Opportunity Zone projects.

From the Department of Energy, Deputy Assistant Secretary Doug Little described the agency’s research role, which includes how to make fossil fuels cleaner, because the Administration doesn’t foresee much reduction of fossil fuel use in the next 20 years.  Chair Martha Robertson challenged that assumption, saying that methane is far more damaging than carbon dioxide over the 20-year timeframe.  Because of our concern, she explained to him, Tompkins County is pursuing alternatives to new gas investment with NYSEG and the New York State Public Service Commission. 

William Crozer, Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, concluded the meeting by stressing his staff’s availability to consult with county officials, to answer questions, and to work to solve problems for counties.  Chair Robertson responded by presenting a prepared letter and details on the Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport expansion project, asking for the administration’s support for FAA funding.

Martha, Anne and Deborah enjoyed meeting their colleagues from other counties in New York and New Jersey.  In noting Tompkins County’s active participation, one colleague from Suffolk County remarked, “it was clear Tompkins County was in the house.”