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Borut pushes for federal solution to mandate crisis.

NLC Executive Director Don Borut last week urged Congress to work closely with the administration on a comprehensive approach to provide flexibility and reduce mandates on local governments.

In testimony before the House Government Operations Committee, Borut lauded full committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) and ranking Republican Bill Clinger (R-Pa.) for their bipartisan efforts to write federal legislation to give cities and towns more flexibility to coordinate federal programs at the local level, the Local Flexibility Act of 1993, HR 2856:

"In our view, your proposed, bipartisan legislation shares many elements in common with proposals offered by the administration in its National Performance Review. Consequently, we hope these hearings will serve as an opportunity for your committee to collaborate with municipal elected officials and the administration in rebuilding the federal-local relationship.

"We strongly support efforts to permit cities to make more flexible and efficient use of existing federal resources. Over the last decade, we have experienced a sharp drop in federal assistance, but an inverse increase in federal requirements. Some of the requirements, or mandates, such as for stormwater permit requirements, were derived from one statutory paragraph. But the regulations are long, complex, and will impose billions of dollars of one-size-fits-all requirements on local governments - diverting scarce resources from local priorities."

The Conyers-Clinger bill is a five-year demonstration program that would let towns and cities use funding from some federal assistance programs in a combined, integrated manner, based upon plans developed by the local government. According to Conyers and Clinger, the purpose of the proposed bill is to:

* encourage the integration of federal grant programs by local governments;

* enable more efficient use of federal state and local resources; and

* enable local governments to adapt federal programs to the particular needs of low income citizens.

In Borut's comments to the Committee, he said, "We also support your efforts to direct the program benefits to permit cities to adapt federal programs towards those families in our cities most in need. As federal assistance has declined and federal mandates have increased, central cities have experienced a marked deterioration of local tax bases at the same time the percentages of families in poverty have increased substantially. We view any option to permit local governments the flexibility to tailor programs to meet unique poverty needs in cities as a positive step."

Borut urged the Congress to avoid putting too many hoops for a local government to jump through in order to participate in the demonstration program:

"We believe the level of government with implementation responsibility is probably most able to determine the most effective and efficient way to deliver services.

"Similarly, we are apprehensive that an approach that imposes so many requirements and different levels of sign-off is likely to discourage the least sophisticated communities to the benefit of the most sophisticated. The more the legislation can reflect varying levels of capacity, the more helpful and utilized its benefits will be."

Borut urged the committee to consider a number of NLC recommendations:

* Increase access and use of the flexibility in the proposed legislation, NLC recommends adoption of the "bottoms-up" approach recommended by Vice President Gore, so that any city or town would have authority to consolidate grants of less than $10 million without any red tape or layers of bureaucratic approvals. We are concerned that the costs in terms of time, resources, and paperwork of complying with the requirements for approval for a smaller, poorer municipality would discourage participation, concentrating the benefits of the proposed legislation to larger and wealthier units of local government. We recommend delegating consolidation authority to the end user of the grant funds.

* In keeping with the intent of the bill, NLC would recommend a review of the requirements prerequisite to any approval of consolidation. NLC does not, for instance, see benefit of a requirement for plan submission to and approval by the governor of a purely local plan.

Borut told Conyers and Clinger, "We are grateful for your long-term efforts to restore greater flexbility to cities to ensure the most effective and targeted use of federal assistance."
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Title Annotation:National League of Cities Executive Director Don Borut
Author:Shafroth, Frank
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Oct 18, 1993
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