by Natalie English, SVP Charlotte Chamber Public Policy
The following column appeared in the Charlotte Business Journal on June 29, 2012:
If you think Washington doesn't matter, reflect on this week alone and you'll think differently. Congress has been hard at work on many issues in advance of a summer break. The Supreme Court is issuing opinions this week on major cases on their docket. Those actions will affect Charlotteans directly and indirectly.
We took a small group of our business leaders to DC this week. We go every year to meet with members of Congress and representatives of the administration. The intent of the trip is to educate chamber members on how laws are made as well as to lobby on important issues for Charlotte.
This year we came to Capitol Hill with a plan to urge for a Full Funding Grant Agreement for the Blue Line Extension to UNC Charlotte. And we've done that. We've also asked for support of a new control tower at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. We spent a significant amount of time talking about a transportation reauthorization bill. A bill should pass before the break which will address transportation funding for our important projects.
When we set the date for the trip, we didn't realize how well timed it would be for the lobbying. We also didn't know the Supreme Court decisions would be released while we were there. For policy wonks like me, it has been a fascinating week.
We've been able to hear about parts of the compromise on the transportation bill as we've met with different people. You only get access to that kind of information when you're actually on The Hill.
Our speakers have referenced the Supreme Court decisions in their speeches and how the decisions might affect future policy. The ramifications of the decisions won't be completely clear for sometime but we've been part of that debate while we're here. We'll continue to talk about the health care decision at our annual summit in August.
We've talked with our members of Congress about legislation they are pushing such as crowd funding, student loans, and funding for private for-profit education institutions. We had members on this trip who were very interested in those issues. We also received sobering insights into the deteriorating situation in Syria and the looming constitutional crisis between Congress and the Attorney General.
The members of Congress do work hard while they are in Washington. They were dropping in to visit with us and having to rush off for committee meetings and votes on these and other issues. It is exciting to see how they have to manage their work and find time to visit with constituents.
We've been flattered by those we've met with. Representatives of the administration have been very complementary of Charlotte's efforts with our 2030 Transit and Land Use Plan. Members of Congress are excited about Charlotte's recent economic development successes. A US Chamber staffer said North Carolina is ahead of the game on transportation planning in the wake of declining gas tax revenues.
The Charlotte Chamber and our members already have great relationships with our members of Congress. The difference this week is that we've been here with them on the days they are actually debating the issues we care about. It's not often that you can drop in on Capitol Hill for just a day or two and feel like you have affected policy. We feel like we have this week.
The consensus is that not much will happen the rest of this year in Congress. It feels to us like they've crammed it all into this week. You know what they say, timing is everything. And, make no mistake about it, what happens in Washington does matter.