It’s the time of year that those of us self-proclaimed “political junkies” find most absorbing and entertaining. For the remaining 99 percent of the public who are more than ready to have all this ended — if only to have your public roadways clear of the “Vote Dave Tyahla for Dog Catcher” signs — we provide a brief update from Washington, D.C., on where things stand entering this year’s Senate and congressional elections, and the potential impacts on community parks and recreation.
Let’s start with some of the key policy issues involving parks and recreation facing the U.S. Congress in the coming weeks and months:
The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) expires in 2015 and must be reauthorized by September 30. Changes in leadership and/or party majority may have a significant impact on the outlook for furthering this critical law, as well as how the State Assistance Program is funded going forward.
The Surface Transportation Act (MAP-21), which provides up to $800 million each year for walking and biking trails and infrastructure, expires in May. There’s no easy way to pay for the overall federal transportation program, short of a significant increase to the 18 cent/gallon gas tax, which is “off the table” according to House Republicans.
The Child Nutrition Act is also set to expire next year. If the new legislation is not passed by the end of September, the funding mechanism will stop for the Summer Food Service Program and the Child and Adult Care Food Program. This means that you will no longer receive the reimbursements from the United States Department of Agriculture for the meals you serve at your summer and after-school food programs.
Believe it or not, Congress will be returning for a post-election session in November. This is referred to as “lame duck” as both chambers will have many members who are not returning in January when the new Congress is sworn in. This allows departing representatives and senators the freedom to make difficult votes as they’re less worried about any negative political — or electoral — impacts.
The most important item on the agenda for November is for Congress to approve final spending packages for all federal agencies and programs for Fiscal Year 2015, which technically began on October 1. This is the only item the Constitution mandates they must accomplish annually, and they still haven’t been able to approve spending bills in a normal, timely fashion in more than a dozen years. The federal government is currently operating under what is called a “Continuing Resolution,” which keeps the lights on and checks flowing at existing spending levels until mid-December.
Regardless of the election results, the impacts on community parks and recreation will be significant. Let’s take a look at where things stand and how they may look following November 4.
The White House
The race for the White House will start up again in early 2015. President Obama is entering the last two years of his second (and final) term. That’s why this year’s campaign is known as a “mid-term” election.
The House of Representatives
The Constitution requires that all 435 seats in the House must be up for election every two years. So, every voter has at least one race to consider come November 4.
The current breakdown of the House: 233 Republicans and 199 Democrats, with three current vacancies.
Therefore, the Democrats need a “net gain” of 17 seats to take control. Conventional wisdom is that the Republicans will retain control of the chamber with a small gain of seats (six to 12). Historically, the party opposing the sitting President makes gains during mid-term election cycles. But, more or less, we’re likely looking at a “status quo” election in the House.
The story on the Senate side of the Capitol is much more interesting. First, Senators serve six-year terms with approximately one-third of the 100 total Senate seats up for election at any one time.
The current breakdown of the Senate: 53 Democrats, two Independents and 45 Republicans.
A total of 36 Senate seats are up for election this year. Twenty-one of these seats are currently held by Democrats.
The GOP needs a net gain of six seats to take control. Note that in the event of a deadlock in the Senate — a 50/50 split between the two parties — the Democrats would retain control as Vice President Joe Biden is the one who would vote to break any ties.
The political wisdom indicates that control of the Senate is very much up for grabs with Democrats facing difficult challenges in holding on to as many as seven of their seats, while Republicans currently face serious challenges in only two or three.
Finally, with all eyes on the Senate this year, it’s entirely possible that we will wake up on Wednesday, November 5, not knowing which party is in control. Keep watch on Louisiana, which places all candidates (regardless of party) into a single “open primary” election and requires one must receive 50 percent of the vote in order to prevent a run-off election in December.
Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu — the current chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and a member of the Appropriations Committee — is facing a difficult challenge in a state that is trending toward the Republicans. If necessary, the run-off election would be on December 6.
So, have you got all that? Don’t worry…there’s not going to be a quiz! NRPA’s Public Policy Team is ready to assist you with answers to your federal policy questions. Please don’t hesitate to contact us for help.
Finally, please remember to do your homework — study the candidates running for local, state and federal office and learn their views on issues critical to you and your work.
Most of all, remember to VOTE on November 4!
David Tyahla is NRPA’s Senior Manager for Government Affairs.