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National Unfunded Mandates Day: an idea whose time has come.

The Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations recently identified 27 federal statutes enacted during the 1980s that impose significant new regulatory burdens on state or local governments. Moreover, a number of these new federal mandates have placed costly financial burdens on those governments. No one knows what the total cumulative costs of these programs will be, but one analysis estimated the costs imposed by these statutes in FY1991 alone to range from $2.2 billion to $3.6 billion.

The issue of unfunded federal mandates--Washington's practice of imposing, but not funding, a costly program or requirement that state or local governments are directed to carry out--has been a sore point with state and local governments for several years, which has been exacerbated as the level of federal financial assistance to local governments in particular has declined. According to the General Accounting Office, between 1985 and 1991 federal intergovernmental aid to cities has declined on average each year by 8.3 percent, while the figure for counties is a 10.3 percent decline. In addition, in the past several years those local governments have faced severe fiscal and budgetary constraints.

Four national organizations representing local government officials have determined that the time has come to raise the nation's consciousness about unfunded federal mandates. On August 12 of this year, leaders of the National Association of Counties (NACo), the National League of Cities (NLC), the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) and the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) held a press conference in Washington, D.C., to announce that Wednesday, October 27, is to mark the first observance of "National Unfunded Mandates Day." That day would be the official kick-off for the organizations' campaign to raise public awareness and understanding of mandates. Local government officials across the nation will hold news conferences and public forums to call attention to the impact of mandates on local operations and budgets.

Efforts also will be undertaken to urge Congress to enact legislation that relieves local governments of the burdens of mandated programs unless federal funding reimburses them for the costs. Two such bills have been introduced in the present Congress. S. 993 introduced by Senator Dirk Kempthorne (R-ID) has 22 co-sponsors, while H.R. 140 introduced by Representative Gary Condit (D-CA) has 87 cosponsors.

One dramatic event of National Unfunded Mandates Day will be the release of two

surveys that will show the actual costs of federal mandates on local governments. One survey, conducted by NACo, will assess the impact of 12 mandated programs on 400 counties. The other survey, conducted by USCM, will measure the burden of 10 mandates on more than 1,000 cities.

GFOA applauds the leadership these organizations are taking to educate the public about what one mayor has called the "devolution" of responsibilities by the federal government onto the backs of local governments. Like the organizations leading the education program, GFOA has no quarrel with the intent of the laws. It does, however, share their concern about the proliferation of federal programs that add to local fiscal burdens and represent intrusions that distort community priorities.

Finance officers, in particular, need to be involved in this effort to educate the public, the media and the country's leaders about the impact of federal mandates on their governments. It is the finance officers who have the special responsibility for managing the day-to-day financial affairs of their governments to insure that funds are available to provide the facilities and services their citizens require. It is they who can gather and provide much of the data to determine the financial costs of federal mandates on a local government. Most importantly, it is the data from the finance office that can demonstrate the chief worry that state and local government officials have: that the portion of local tax dollars being consumed by federally mandated programs is increasing, leaving a decreasing portion for programs deemed by local taxpayers to be their priorities.

These are the reasons why GFOA supports the efforts of the other public interest groups to bring the issue of unfunded federal mandates to the public's attention. For a number of years it has been the official policy of GFOA that federally mandated programs either be funded by the federal government or that alternative federal revenue sources be identified for financing the programs. In furtherance of this policy, GFOA helped to develop questions relating to the tax-exempt bond provisions of the federal tax code that are a part of the survey of 400 counties being conducted by NACo. GFOA also alerted its members who are finance officers in the counties included in the survey about the survey and its importance.

State and local government officials consider unfunded federal mandates to be one of the most pervasive problems facing their jurisdictions today. It is important that taxpayers become aware of how their local governments' budgets are being eroded by the mandates, and how many of their own needs are going unmet as a result. GFOA supports National Unfunded Mandates Day and urges its members to work in their jurisdictions to set up press conferences and other public events on October 27, 1993. Not only will their citizen taxpayers become educated about unfunded federal mandates, but members of the U.S. Congress also will get the message.

That the message is beginning to be heard is attested to by the Kempthorne and Condit bills. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency, which writes the regulatory requirements that implement some of the most costly federal mandates, has restructured itself so that there will be more state and local government involvement in environmental management. Furthermore, the report of Vice President Al Gore's task force on reinventing government has recommended that the President issue a directive limiting unfunded federal mandates.

All these are hopeful signs. Nevertheless, the message from National Unfunded Mandates Day needs to go out loud and clear to the nation. October 27 is a first step. It is not just a one-day affair but the beginning of an ongoing effort by local governments to call attention to national policies that for too long have shifted the costs of national programs to local taxpayers, at the expense of local funds and services. GFOA intends to be a vigorous participant in that effort.

JEFFREY L. ESSER is GFOA's Executive Director.
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Author:Esser, Jeffrey L.
Publication:Government Finance Review
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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