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Let's bring back fairness and accountability: stop the unfunded mandates.

It is time to bring fairness, responsibility, and accountability Mack to the financial relationship between cities and the federal government. It is time to help our citizens understand that an unfunded mandate, as laudable as its purpose may be, is simply an unfair shifting of financial responsibility and accountability.

In the 1970s, federal revenue sharing promoted local accountability for locally made choices on local priorities. Seventy-five percent matching grants from municipal waste water construction projects recognized that national clean water priorities (mandates) should be supported with federally raised revenues. Revenue sharing is gone; construction grants are a thing of the past; but federally mandated priorities are growing with responsibility for payment shifted to cities and counties. Pass a bill, pass a buck federalism is an unstated element of the 1980s and 1990s Washington fiscal program.

Addressing the inequity of federally unfunded mandates is a top priority on NLC's Action Agenda for this year. Promoting a public understanding and appreciation of this issue is a major part of that effort.

The newest approach to the issue is: no federal mandates without federal funds to carry them out. Members of Congress sympathetic to this concern have introduced some 23 proposed bills to address this issue. Senator Dirk Kempthorne, former Mayor of Boise, Idaho, has the most comprehensive proposal. Representative Jim Moran, former Mayor of Alexandria, Va., has developed a proposal requiring fiscal notes and fiscal impact analysis on legislation affecting local governments.

All 23 proposals recognize the plight of the cities confronted with tight fiscal constraints, multiple local priorities, and impact of federal "musts" thrown down on municipal government.

NLC's leaders strongly support efforts to stop unfunded federal mandates and, at the same time, advocate addressing the current mandate initiatives with a sense of political reality; specifically, requiring that all mandates be examined in terms of the risk and cost benefit opposing a "one-size-fits-all" approach which is both inappropriate and unrealistic; and, finally, arguing that local governments must be involved in both the setting of priorities and focusing on procedures by which mandates are carried out.

In an effort to provide broad-based public education on the issue of federally unfunded mandates, NLC, in cooperation with the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Association of Counties, the International City/County Management Association, and state organizations, is developing a focused, comprehensive education program to demonstrate that many costs now borne by municipalities are a direct result of federal requirement and not discretionary expenditures decided by local elected officials.

NLC and its leaders strongly believe that keeping local dollars local is an appropriate, responsible approach to fiscal accountability. Fairness, responsibility, and accountability are fundamental American values that are clearly distorted through federally unfunded mandates.

This initiative will be kicked off with a national unfunded mandates day on October 27, an idea first proposed by NLC's FAIR Chair and Co-Chairs Greg Lashutka, Mayor of Columbus, Ohio, and Ed Rendell, Mayor of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The purpose of that day is to give voice to the impact of unfunded mandates and to help citizens appreciate how costs have been shifted from Washington to municipal budgets, and that priorities otherwise determined by local elected officials are now being set in Washington.

This effort will be more than rhetoric and will draw heavily on hard data developed and provided by local elected officials. NLC is developing a complete kit of informing to be made available to elected officials as a means of informing their constituents of the impact of mandates.

Building on a program initiated by the Georgia Municipal Association, NLC will be developing a basic procedure by which local elected officials, particularly those in small communities, can calculate the cost of federally unfunded mandates to their citizens.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors will be working with a national accounting firm to collect the cost of federally unfunded mandates in larger communities. So, too, will the National Association of Counties collect information from 200 of the larger counties in the U.S.

In the coming weeks, we will be providing information on this broad-based national initiative. NLC and the state municipal leagues, having heard loud and clearly from members, believes that an informed citizenry will help to enlighten the Congress and Administration to the unfairness of unfunded federal mandates.
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Author:Borut, Donald J.
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Aug 9, 1993
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