Guest Column: Wyoming Counties Matter to NACo
By: Matthew Chase, Executive Director, National Association of Counties
“The best way to predict the future is to invent it,” famously stated computer scientist Alan Kay.
This attitude is rooted in NACo’s strategic blueprint, Stronger Counties. Stronger America. With the entrepreneurial spirit of a start-up entity, our 81-year-old association has entered a new phase of promise. We’re focused on keeping America’s communities healthy, safe and vibrant through the leadership and ingenuity of county government.
NACo unites America’s 3,069 county governments, and Wyoming counties understand how important it is to be united. We are grateful that all 23 Wyoming counties are members of NACo; Wyoming is one of 21 states with 100 percent membership in NACo.
As the voice of county governments at the national level, our core focus is to promote federal policies that advance the interests of county government. Decisions made at the federal level have direct and often costly impacts on counties’ ability to lead Wyoming’s communities.
We push for appropriate federal investments in counties’ mandated programs and services, and we work to strengthen the intergovernmental partnership of federal, state and local officials. In doing this, we welcome all voices in pursuing counties’ federal legislative priorities.
Working with Wyoming counties and WCCA, our federal advocacy has resulted in several recent victories, including:
- Passing the FAST Act, landmark surface transportation legislation that supports local decision-making and secures additional federal investments of $3 billion for locally-owned infrastructure and $776 million for bridges primarily owned by counties and other local governments (here is the link to a NACo webinar summarizing this key transportation bill and how it will impact counties)
- Fighting unfunded federal mandates like the EPA’s “Waters of the of U.S.” and other uncompensated regulations related to the environment, justice, human services and county employees
- Securing $452 million to fully fund the Payments in Lieu of Taxes program for more than 62 percent of the nation’s counties that have non-taxable federal land, including Wyoming counties that receive more than $25 million from this program, and
- Staving off constant threats to reduce or eliminate the tax-exempt status of municipal bonds, which have helped counties and other public entities over the past decade finance more than $3.7 trillion to build schools, hospitals, roads and jails. A repeal of the tax-exempt status is estimated to cost Wyoming counties approximately $367 million over 10 years.
Though we have made tremendous progress, we continue to face serious threats as well as potential opportunities. We are focused on pressing legislative and regulatory issues that have major impacts on counties.
That’s why it’s so important that you attend NACo’s Legislative Conference Feb. 20-24 in Washington, D.C., where counties’ federal policy priorities will take center stage. We’ll address topics like mental health and criminal justice reform, surface transportation and public lands management. We encourage you to read more about these priorities and register today.
In addition to our federal advocacy efforts, we offer membership programs that save counties and residents money, time and resources.
Through signature cost-saving programs, NACo members have helped county residents save more than $633 million through the Live Healthy U.S. Counties prescription, health and dental discount program, including $503,000 in Wyoming.
NACo’s members-only online grants clearinghouse gives you access to information about more than 1,000 federal, state, corporate and foundation grant opportunities available to counties and community-based organizations.
NACo also aims to assist you in becoming more effective county leaders. For example:
- Participation on steering committees enables you to influence federal legislation and regulations that impact your ability to lead
- World-class, county-focused research helps you better understand, communicate about and advocate for policy priorities
- Attending conferences, free webinars and leadership training sessions help you grow professionally, and
- Networking with other county officials helps you identify innovative solutions and learn from counties like yours.
NACo also works to increase the public’s knowledge of the value of county government. One of our key public awareness activities is National County Government Month, which is celebrated each April. This year’s theme is “Safe and Secure Counties,” consistent with NACo Pres. Sallie Clark’s year-long presidential initiative. We encourage you to leverage this opportunity to promote the work you do to keep our communities safe and expand opportunities for residents.
NACo assists you with modern communications tools to tell our story, including videos, podcasts and social media. We recently launched a redesigned County News in print and online that is designed to engage readers and showcase counties’ cutting-edge leadership.
Our successful “Counties Matter” campaign provides infographics and concrete figures that make it easy for you to communicate the value of county government in impactful ways. The campaign will have an updated look and data points for 2016, and NACo will provide each state with state-specific brochures.
NACo even has a Counties Work simulation game for students that allows each student to make decisions and take on the role of a county official. The game helps to lay the groundwork early for the public’s understanding of counties and has been played more than 1 million times.
We hope to advance our public awareness and civic engagement objectives throughout the year, and in particular at NACo’s Annual Conference in America’s largest county, Los Angeles County, Calif. Wyoming counties’ participation will be vital to our efforts, and we hope you will attend July 22-25.
Counties play a key leadership role in providing services to our residents. From transportation and infrastructure to natural resources management, from justice and public safety to health services, counties are responsible for many of the systems that protect and improve our citizens’ quality of life. Together, we can create stronger counties, a stronger Wyoming and a stronger America.