Planners Carry the Message in Annual Trip to Capitol Hill

In 125 meetings with congressional offices representing 25 states, APA members and advocates for good planning fanned out across Capitol Hill on September 29 to talk about transportation, parks, public health, and funding for vital local projects.

The Planners' Day on Capitol Hill meetings were particularly timely with imminent legislative deadlines related to federal surface transportation programs, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), and annual appropriations for key infrastructure and community development programs. Participants told compelling stories about the local impacts of these federal programs and the need for resources to advance and implement local plans.

These stories supported three basic requests for congressional action:

  • Pass a multi-year, sustainably funded transportation bill
  • Reauthorize and fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund
  • Maintain support for critical programs like CDBG, HOME and TIGER, that benefit community and economic development

Beyond these three primary "asks," participants also talked to members of Congress about ideas for strengthening transportation planning, advancing bike and pedestrian projects, expanding support for urban parks, and the value of federal investments in addressing problems like economic inequality and social equity.

Advocates were prepared for these discussions through in-depth sessions on each topic that were held the day before as part of the 2015 Policy and Advocacy Conference.

Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) kicked off the day with thoughts on the future of federal urban policy in light of this year's 50th anniversary of the creation of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Key congressional staff from the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and the House Natural Resources Committee gave an inside view on pending transportation and LWCF legislation. Staff for the House Transportation and HUD Appropriations Subcommittee gave a luncheon briefing on the federal budget battle and implications for planning.

Advocacy on these important legislative priorities was not limited to those in Washington. Many APA members from across the country took their advocacy online by sending emails to their congressional representatives and participating in APA's social media campaigns aimed at transportation and LWCF.

Planners' Day was also a time for celebrating local planning successes. Representatives from the 2015 APA Great Places in America were on hand to brief congressional offices on the designation and present members of Congress with honorary certificates. This proved to be a great way to explain the value of good planning to making great communities. In addition, leaders of three APA Plan4Health grant projects came to Washington to explain how these CDC-funded projects were linking planning and public health.

As valuable as the Planners' Day on Capitol Hill events were to advancing good public policy, effective advocacy is about year-round activities to build strong relationships with policymakers. These relationships are the key to influencing policy debates and decisions. APA has launched a new (free!) Planners' Advocacy Network to provide the training, tools and information you need to be a powerful advocate for planning locally, in your state and at the federal level.

The Policy and Advocacy Conference and Planners' Day on Capitol Hill also marked the start of the process of defining APA's legislative and policy agenda for 2016. Attendees participated in an interactive forum to solicit ideas and engaged with members of the APA Legislative and Policy Committee. Let us know what issues you believe should be part of our policies and priorities for next year as we head into a presidential election campaign.

While Planners' Day on Capitol Hill 2015 has come and gone, there are still plenty of opportunities for you to be an advocate. You can join the Planners' Advocacy Network and contact your congressional representatives about transportation, LWCF and THUD appropriations. All three issues still face looming deadlines before the end of the year. So, join your colleagues and make your voice heard for good planning.

About the Author

Jason Jordan is APA's Director of Policy and Government Affairs.

Image: Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) (in bow tie) meets with APA members Jason Franklin, AICP, and Brian Campbell, FAICP, as part of Planners' Day on Capitol Hill. At far right is APA Executive Director Jim Drinan, JD.

March 17, 2016

By Jason Jordan