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Issues and options: new NLC report examines mandates morass.

A new report from the National League of Cities, "Mandates: Keeping Citizens Aware," explores how unfunded mandates are straining the intergovernmental partnership by placing additional burdens on already fiscally-stressed local governments.

The monograph, the latest in NLC's Issues & Options subscription series, highlots techniques cities are using, such as mandate catalogs and separately-documented mandate charges on local utility and tax bills, to make citizens aware of the costs of mandates imposed by the federal and state governments.

The new NLC report explains what a mandate is, documents fourteen different types of mandates imposed on local governments, examines the pitfalls of reimbursement and fiscal note procedures as techniques for remandates, and highlights the damaging long-term consequences of mandates to municipal budgets, city programmatic innovation and flexibility, and overall governmental responsiveness and accountability to citizens.

The Mandate Problem

In the first section of the new report, Janet M. Kelly, assistant professor of political science at Bowling Green State University, takes a critical look at state mandates on local governments.

Of all the issues that engage local government officials and state legislators, none is more contentious than mandates. Mandates, Kelly says, go to the heart of what governing is all about - autonomy and money.

State legislatures clearly have both the right and the obligation to take measures to ensure basic and equal protection for all citizens of the state. But these laudable and necessary legislative activities are not achieved, Kelly argues, when local governments are buried in a blizzard of procedural rules that that limit local flexibility and state controls that restrict the ability of local governments to raise revenues.

Everyone can understand why localities bristle when confronted with an ever-expanding load of state rules and requirements whose costs rise over time. What is understood less often, according to Kelly, are the underlying motives behind state mandates. The ironic truth: those state legislatures that most closely regulate the day today administrative activities Of local government do so because they honestly believe they are making localities more efficient. In this environment, Kelly argues, mechanistic solutions to the state mandates problem are unlikely to be effective. What is required is better information about mandates and an improved dialogue between state and local leaders.

Keeping Citizens Aware

The second section of the new report describes and provides written samples of a variety of innovative and effective techniques local governments are using to educate the public about the actual costs of mandates.

Highlighted are a comprehensive state mandates "catalog" prepared by Alexandria, Va.; a federal and state mandates impact analysis" used in Toccoa, Georgia; survey tables documenting how 70 communities use 10 different techniques to make citizens aware of mandates; sample local utility and tax bills that document the cost impact of mandates and that encourage citizens to discuss those costs with federal and state legislators; and sample anti- mandate referendum language from a campaign in Illinois.

The monograph also includes a listing and brief description of additional readings and resources on mandates.

"Mandates: Keeping Citizens Aware" is the most recent publication in NLC'S Issues & Options subscription series. Published ten times per year, Issues & Options provides timely and objective information on key issues confronting local governments in a concise, easy-to-read format. Previous 1993 monographs focused on juvenile crime prevention, geographic information systems, local government employee telecommuting, ethics ordinances and practices, and interlocal revenue sharing.

Annual subscriptions to Issues & Options are available at rates of $149 for NLC members and $198 for all others. New subscribers automatically receive all back issues for the calendar year.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:National League of Cities
Author:James, Elizabeth Powell
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Aug 2, 1993
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