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First Unfunded Mandate Day set for October 27.

The National League of Cities and three other public interest groups jointly announced national public education campaign last week to curb unfunded federal mandates on local governments.

Citing growing fiscal burdens and intrusions that distort local priorities, leaders of NLC, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Association of Counties, and the International City/County Management Association called for an end to Washington's practice imposing, but not funding, costly programs or requirements that local governments are directed to carry out.

Speaking at a Washington news conference, they unveiled plans for National Unfunded Mandates Day - Wednesday, October 27 - which will be the official kick-off for their campaign to raise public awareness and understanding of mandates. On that day, city and county officials across the nation will hold news conferences and public forums to call attention to the impact of mandates on local operations and budgets.

"Last week's action by Congress to attempt to control federal spending is a welcome step forward. Washington must begin to tackle its budget problems, just as cities have been doing for years," said Mayor Greg Lashutka of Columbus, Ohio, chairman of the NLC Policy Committee on Finance, Administration and Intergovernmental Relations.

In preparation for October's events, NLC has begun preparing information packets that will be sent to state leagues and the NLC membership in the near future. The materials are designed to help explain and illustrate the extent to which unfunded mandates affect local governance, and to help organize and coordinate local efforts to inform citizens and national policy leaders about the causes and effects of unfunded mandates.

Characterizing unfunded mandates with the "one size fits all syndrome," Northbrook, Ill. Village Manager John Novinson called the financial strain of congressional mandates "unfounded and misguided."

"We are not here because of some anti-environment movement. It is a resources conservation and justice movement. We drink the water, we breathe the air," Novinson told the press conference.

Novinson serves as a member of ICMA Environmental Mandates Task Force, which was created to deal with the issue of environmental mandate finance and management.

Efforts will be undertaken to urge Congress to enact legislation that relieves or reimburses local governments of the burdens of mandated programs.

"Efforts to control federal spending may cause increased mandates and regulations imposed on local governments without any funding to implement them. The information we are gathering will be compiled in a way that will help local officials educate their citizens, the opinion leaders of their communities and the congressional delegations about the costs and impacts of unfunded mandates," Lashutka said.

Earlier this year, the annual NLC survey of city fiscal conditions asked communities across the nation to list the three most difficult budget issues they face. Not surprisingly, unfunded mandates was one of the top three problems in both frequency and severity, said Lashutka.

Philadelphia Mayor Edward Rendell, vice-president of the NLC FAIR Committee and co-chair of USCM's Task Force on Unfunded Mandates talked about the decision of his city to file suit because of a federal mandate and subsequent court ruling that requires the city to build curbs on road sides whenever road construction takes place including street repavements. Rendell said the unfunded mandate will reduce street repavements by 50 percent.

In addition, Rendell talked about a possible mandate in which he vowed to be jailed for refusing to implement because it threatened to freeze Philadelphia's capital budget for three to four years. The mandate through the Delaware Basin Commission would require the city to build a $250 to $450 million tertiary plant, because the two existing plants did not meet federal oxygen level standards for the fish that inhabit the Delaware River.

"Philadelphia's entire capital budget is $100 million. If we had to build the plant, over three to four years we would not be able to do any other capital improvements. If Washington wants the fish to have more oxygen then pay for it and I'll get in and swim with them," said Rendell.

When asked by a reporter if the group of elected officials were against the mandated programs themselves, USCM President Jerry Abramson, mayor of Louisville, Ky. said "We are not challenging the enlightenment (of Congress)."

"We want to make it clear we have no quarrel with the intentions of the laws - to provide clean water or handicapped accessibility or proper disposal of toxic waste," said Abramson. "But when the good intentions of these laws are put into the hands of the bureaucrats who have no idea or concern about what their mandates are going to cost, you have a horror story."

Two surveys, which will show the actual costs of mandates on local governments, will be released on National Unfunded Mandates Day. One survey, conducted by NACo, will assess the impact of 12 mandated programs on 400 counties, while the other, by USCM, will measure the burden of 10 mandates on more than 1,000 cities. Price Waterhouse, a leading U.S. accounting firm, will compile the results and produce the survey reports.

"Mandates are really hidden taxes. They are imposed on local governments who have no choice but to pass costs onto their constituents," said NACo President Barbara S. Todd, commissioner, Pinella County, Fla. "(Congress) is using our property tax as their credit card."

The surveys will ask officials to estimate annual staff hours and non-labor budget costs in fiscal year 1993 for covering areas such as clean air and water, solid waste disposal, endangered species, employee compensation, and access for the disabled. The surveys also will ask for future capital costs.

In addition to gathering specific information through the surveys, the organizations will be compiling and distributing information for local officials to use in broad-based public education campaigns in their communities.

City and county officials will be carrying their message to members of Congress and top agency officials. Work on current and pending legislation is underway, and local officials are considering institutional reforms to the regulatory process so that they may have a stronger voice in the decision making process in Washington.

"With few prospects for federal funding, local governments are increasingly challenged to finance the additional monitoring, control technology, infrastructure improvements, and retroactive environmental cleanups required by laws," said Novisson.

Mandates have a dramatic effect on local property taxes and services, said F. Thomas Ament, county executive of Milwaukee County, Wisc. "While I have kept Milwaukee County' spending below the rate of inflation and have held the line on property taxes, we have a cancer in our midst: it's called mandated programs," said Ament. He added that "mandated programs," eat up nearly two-thirds of our annual budget.
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Author:Baker, Denise; Arndt, Randy
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Aug 16, 1993
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