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Local News

April 29, 2013

Progress slow on state mandate relief

'Million little things' stressing local budgets

(Continued)

Seward also pointed to progress to ease the pressure of ballooning Medicaid costs.

“For county governments, we have started to take over the growth,” he said, adding that the “phased-in takeover of the Medicaid growth will stabilize, at least, the county finances.”

But the problem doesn’t stop with big-ticket programs, Miller said.

“It’s a million little things,” he said.

The problem has come to be defined as “unfunded mandates.”

Essentially, that refers to a constellation of laws and regulations promulgated by the legislature and executive agencies, such as the Education Department, for which municipal and county governments must spend money to comply. These laws and regulations contain no provisions to offset the costs.

“When we enacted the property tax cap a couple of years ago, I said that only works if it comes with meaningful mandate relief,” Seward said. “That’s really the way to address high property taxes.”

Miller offered an example.

“A test that has to be done at the water plant used to be done quarterly,” he said. “All of a sudden, it has to be done monthly. A lot of these things are not enacted by the legislature; they’re enacted by the various departments within government and with no process at all that allows any dialogue with the affected agencies.”

“If you look at every piece of legislation that’s enacted, every additional regulation that’s imposed, it’s a cost to government and to the people,” he added, although he conceded that 75 percent of those laws and regulations are legitimate.

Nevertheless, Seward said he’s support a proposal to allow all regulations to sunset next year unless specifically reauthorized.

“I could buy into that,” he said. “Because I think we need to, shall we say, start fresh here and force a review of what’s in place. That’s exactly what that would do, because what we’re faced with here is layer on layer of requirement and mandates that have built up over a period of time. There may have been a good reason at a particular time, but does that reason still exist?”

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