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What your constituents need to know about unfunded federal mandates.


& Answers

On Unfunded Mandates

Q. What are federal mandates?

A. Federal mandates are requirements placed on local governments by the federal government to perform specified tasks. They are "mandates" because they must be done, and they are "federal" because the national government enacts them. To determine if something is a mandate for your city or town just ask the question: "Must my city do this or risk civil or criminal penalties?"

Q. Who pays for federal mandates?

A. Local citizens and businesses pay for most federal mandates through increased local taxes and fees. Most federal mandates are unfunded or underfunded. This means the federal government adopts the legislation and/or establishes regulatory requirements without appropriating any federal funds to implement the legislation or regulations. The costs for implementation are left to the local government.

Q. Why are mandates a problem?

A. Federal mandates are a problem for three reasons: (1) they are imposed without consideration of local circumstances or capacity to implement the federal requirements; (2) they strain already tight budgets forcing increases in local tax rates and fees to pay for mandates, continue to provide local services, and keep local budgets in balance; and (3) they set priorities for local governments without local input. Because most mandates require compliance regardless of other pressing local needs, federal mandates often "squeeze out" projects and activities that are local priorities and which could contribute more to local health, welfare and safety than the specific action or activity dictated by federal law or regulation. Local dollars spent on federal mandates is money that cannot be spent on local priorities.

Q. How much do federal mandates really cost?

A. Federal mandates cost individual cities millions of dollars. For example, Columbus, Ohio, will have to spend $16 million to reduce the level of atrizine, a corn herbicide, in its water supply to a level of less than three parts per billion, or the equivalent of one half an aspirin tablet per 16,000 gallons of water. The city of Anchorage will spend $1.5 million to comply with municipal stormwater requirements. The cities of Lewiston and Auburn, Maine, except to spend $17 million to comply with the federal safe drinking water mandates which will produce virtually no change in the quality or delivery of water. In 1990, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) predicted that by the year 2000, cities and towns will have to spend $12.8 billion annually just to comply with federal environmental mandates that were then in effect - the equivalent of a 32 percent property tax increase for local governments.

Q. Are local governments opposed to mandates that protect the public health, safety and civil rights of citizens?

A. No. Local elected officials are committed to providing public services that enhance the health, safety, and welfare of their citizens. City officials support and continue to develop programs to advance these and other objectives.

But local officials are opposed to unfunded, inflexible, "one-size-fits-all" laws and regulations. These laws and regulations impose unrealistic time schedules for compliance, specify the use of procedure or facilities when less costly alternatives might serve as well, and require far more than underlying laws appear to require. Local officials want to concentrate on performance, not procedures.

Q. Why should citizens care about federal mandates?

A. Federal mandates allow the federal government to write checks on the local government's checkbook. They interfere with local decision-making and give authority to remote federal lawmakers and bureaucrats rather than easily accessible local mayors and councilmembers. And, perhaps most importantly, they force local governments to raise local taxes and fees in order to comply with federal mandates and maintain local services.

Q. What can local leaders do about mandates?

A. Local government leaders must begin to speak out about the impact of federal mandates on their government, its budget, and on the pocketbooks of citizens. They must also take responsibility for educating their constituents about the impact of federal mandates on local priorities and local budgets. National organizations representing state and local governments in Washington are providing information and resources to help local leaders educate themselves, their constituents, and their Congressional delegations about the impacts of federal mandates and the urgent need to create a better way of doing business - a partnership where levels of local government work together to agree on priorities and methods of achieving those shared commitments.

Q. What can citizens do about mandates?

A. Citizens should write or call their representative in Congress to urge that they: (1) stop passing legislation that requires local governments to spend millions of dollars without any input into the decision; (2) consider much more carefully the cost and impact of mandates on local communities when voting on legislation; and (3) review existing federal mandates to make them more flexible and permit greater local government autonomy in setting priorities and implementation strategies.
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Title Annotation:Questions and Answers
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Oct 18, 1993
Previous Article:Borut pushes for federal solution to mandate crisis.
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