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Issue date: March 24, 2000

Council members carry Mountain View's message to Washington Council members carry Mountain View's message to Washington (March 24, 2000)

Lobbying for federal funding tops mayor's agenda

by Karen Willemsen

From March 10 to 14, city council members weathered a whirlwind of meetings with federal officials to impress upon them the need for federal funding for local programs. As part of the National League of Cities Conference Mayor Rosemary Stasek led the annual pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. where she met with Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, Representative Anna Eshoo, and Maria Westerfield, Director of Intergovermental Affairs for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, among others.

Stasek told the Voice, "We didn't lobby as much as we advocated for our issues: HUD funding for affordable housing, FEMA funding for disaster preparedness -- not just for response, grants for police departments, Community Development Block Grant money, library funding. But we aren't lobbyists, because we don't have anything to offer in return."

"It's more effective to go to Washington, rather than to send staff to find out how everything works there, or to try to work with the federal government from here, which is nearly impossible, because you don't get to engage with the people who really have the power to help solve your problem," Stasek added.

At HUD Stasek brought with her a letter from a local senior citizen, who lives in a low-income senior complex subsidized by HUD. Instability at the agency created a panic among such residents last year, when they received letters indicating the subsidies might be cut off later this year. Unable to compete for market rate housing, seniors like these need assurances that they won't be forced to move out of the area or onto the street, Stasek told Westerfield when they met.

"Having the mayor say, in person, 'This program isn't working. What are you going to do about it?' and handing her that letter helps to get people on your side. Government is just like business. It's human nature to network and to value personal contact," Stasek said.

Council member Sally Lieber focused on child care issues, which she expects to be of critical importance to the city in the next few years. The city is already short of federally subsidized child care slots, said Lieber, who works as a liaison to Mountain View's Child Care Task Force and is a strong proponent for city involvement on the issue.

A February, 1999 needs assessment published by Community Services Agency estimated that while over 600 children from Mountain View, Los Altos, and Los Altos Hills received subsidized child care through federal and state programs, nearly 400 were still waiting for subsidies.

A children's defense fund session on strategies for developing child care options sent Lieber home inspired.

"We shared ideas about how business can get involved, about on-site daycare, about home care versus child care centers," Lieber said. "We have a lot of immigrant families who use home-based child care. They showed us models for loans to home care providers to upgrade their set-up. One model helps banks meet their community reinvestment requirements by providing a revolving loan program to pay for child care staff to upgrade their skills."

Council member Mike Kasperzak was attended a session on e-commerce issues, a topic of vital importance to all city and state governments right now.

"When people hear that Internet sales, or e-commerce, will be a $400 billion business in a couple of years, that's a big issue. It signals a massive shift away from the mom and pop shops, from all local retail," he said.

"When Mountain View residents purchase goods from out-of-state companies over the Internet, they don't pay California sales tax. They are supposed to pay a California use tax, but if you buy some new rain boots from L.L. Bean, which is based in Maine and which doesn't have a California presence at all, the company won't collect that use tax."

"You could go down to the library, fill out a form, and send it to Governor Davis with a check saying, 'This is all the money I owe you in use taxes from shopping over the Internet,' but would you do that?" asked Kasperzak.

In Washington city governments met with the commission set up by Congress following passage of the 1998 Internet Tax Freedom Act. An interim moratorium disallows any "new discriminatory or duplicative tax on the Internet."

Kasperzak counters that if the Internet becomes entirely tax free, as some have suggested, the resulting loss in revenues would be a "devastating blow in overcoming the digital divide." "Municipal governments would raise such a hue and cry," he said. "It would hurt actual local businesses, places like Meyer Appliance, who would have to charge the local 8.5 percent sales tax, in competing with Internet vendors.

"It also allows the rich, who have ready access to the Net, to buy cheaper goods, while poorer citizens would pay more by shopping at local stores," he added.

"That's the message we wanted the commission to get in Washington." (On Wednesday, the commission adjourned, unable to reach an agreement on Internet taxation. The issue will now go to Congress.)


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