NLC Tells Senate Panel to Help Stop Unfunded Mandates

Article excerpt

Seattle Councilmember Nick Licata testified on behalf of the National League of Cities before the Senate Subcommittee of Oversight of Government Management about the growing burdens that federal unfunded mandates are placing on cities across America.

The hearing was called by Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), chairman of the subcommittee and a champion of the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (UMRA).

"With new laws and regulations such as the federal tax reform, Internet tax and the No Child Left Behind Act, and older regulations such as the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) and the Clean Water Act, cities and towns are being asked to do more and more with fewer federal dollars," Licata said. "This can't be clearer than what has occurred in my own hometown of Seattle. Since September 11, 2001, Seattle has paid out close to $46 million, 53 percent of the total costs for homeland security directly from city taxpayers and ratepayers."

Licata cited legislative proposals such as the MTBE liability waiver in the energy bill currently before Congress (see related story) and legislative proposals to require that local governments enforce civil immigration laws as potential sources of unfunded mandates.

Licata urged the Senate panel to consider improvements to the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act to ensure that the federal government would avoid policies that impose disproportionate responsibilities on local governments without recognizing the fiscal impact of those policies.

In particular, federal policies should not mandate new costs for local governments without providing adequate funds to reimburse local governments for those new mandates, Licata said.

UMRA was hailed by local governments as a key partnership tool with the federal government when it was enacted in 1995. Studies examining the effectiveness of the act have found that unfunded mandates are shifted to states and localities. …