The Texas Association of Counties (TAC) has increased its partnership with the National Association of Counties (NACo) this year after TAC Board President Renee Couch led the charge for Texas counties to become more involved at the national level.
That federal outreach initiative was among the topics of discussion at the virtual TAC 2020 Legislative Conference in August. During one session, NACo representatives joined with TAC staff members and leaders to explain the two associations' collaboration and their support for each other. They also urged the state's counties to become more involved.
"My No. 1 priority for 2020-21 was to build a stronger relationship with the National Association of Counties on better communication and direct communication with the Texas (congressional) delegation, and that’s what we’ve done," Couch said. "NACo has helped TAC Legislative Services staff and me communicate with the Texas delegation in letting them know county needs — specifically, direct flexible funding, the CARES Act and the SMART (State Municipal Assistance for Response and Transition) Act."
NACo advocates for counties in Washington, D.C., and works with federal lawmakers and agencies. Its mission is to strengthen and unite America’s counties and increase the public's understanding of county government.
Tarrant County Judge B. Glen Whitley described NACo as an extension of TAC in Washington. Just as TAC works for counties during the legislative session and interim periods, the national association is how counties deal with federal legislation and the Texas delegation, he said. Whitley currently serves as a NACo representative on the TAC Board of Directors and is a past president of the national organization.
NACo is bipartisan and advances the priorities of county government based on the problems that arise for counties. "At NACo gatherings, we don't talk about what parties we are associated with. We talk about what problems we (counties) have and the solutions necessary to fix those problems," Whitley said. “We are there for the people we serve with the understanding that party affiliation doesn’t get stuff done."
Clockwise from upper left, Tarrant County Judge B. Glen Whitley, TAC President and Comal County Treasurer Renee Couch, Cooke County Judge Jason Brinkley, NACo CEO and Executive Director Matt Chase and TAC Legislative Consultant Paul Sugg.
At the session, Couch also said, "I know Texas counties want to be a strong partner with the National Association of Counties, and I would encourage all of you, if you are not already a member, consider joining NACo."
In addition to remarks from Couch and Whitley, the session included an overview of legislative priorities from Cooke County Judge Jason Brinkley and NACo CEO and Executive Director Matt Chase. Brinkley also serves as a NACo representative on the TAC Board of Directors.
NACo outlined the following issues that it is working on:
COVID-19 Financial Impact
The first county in the nation to report a case of the coronavirus did so in mid-February, and now all counties are navigating the pandemic and the challenges it involves. While each county is experiencing its own challenges, counties across the nation have seen a $114 billion collective loss in county-generated revenue since that first case of COVID-19 was logged.
"NACo is your voice and resource as a county official at the national level," Chase said. "NACo's priority is ensuring that any legislative package includes a fair and simple policy for federal aid. We are recommending direct, flexible spending when it comes to federal aid. We want funding to go directly to local government for easy access."
Rural Broadband Access
As the pandemic continues, better access to broadband in rural areas is paramount. Educational entities and businesses alike are at a disadvantage without adequate connectivity.
"Increased access to rural broadband leads to greater rural prosperity," Brinkley said. "One of the biggest challenges related to this issue is inaccuracies in Federal Communications Commission mapping. The solutions are complex. The solutions are multilevel."