Mandate Relief

"The way to stop it is to make it clear to Congress that we are serious about long-term structural reform." – Arkansas Governor (now President) Bill Clinton, National Governor's Association, February 3. 1991.

Throughout the term of the 102nd Congress, legislators introduced 21 mandate relief bills – from general to category-specific. These bills reflected, however symbolically, a growing concern over the damage that mandated directives inflict on state and local government.

Ironically, the mandate issue is drawing so much attention that even federal legislators who have introduced mandate-laden bills are also proposing laws designed to curb their use. Representative Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), for instance, introduced three bills containing mandates as well as two mandate relief bills: one issue-specific, the other general. The more important of these two bills is HR 2338, which is one of only a handful of relief packages designed "to provide that no state or local government shall be obligated to take any action required by federal law...unless all [emphasis added] expenses are fully funded by the United States." (Mandates of the 102nd Congress, pp. 32-33)

Two of the most unique and extensive of the 21 relief bills come from Representative Frank Horton (R-N.Y.) and George Hochbrueckner (D-N.Y.). The Mandate and Community Assistance Reform Act (HR 5591) introduced by Representative Horton provides for a major relief package for state and local governments. It also provides for increased cost estimations, service integration opportunities, and studies to identify mandated legislation that would duplicate services. This bill also requires the suspension of a block of mandates after the country enters a recession and reinstates them after exiting.

Representative Hochbrueckner's National Commission on Intergovernmental Mandate Reform Act (HR 3344) would establish the nation's first commission on mandates, Its duties would include tracking mandated programs, identifying costs, and making recommendations for reducing, eliminating or relieving the financial burden of mandates on the states.[9]

While the attempts made at the federal level to relieve the burden of unfunded mandates are encouraging, it remains that real relief will not come without action taken at the state and local levels of government. Only when state representatives and the taxpayers they represent make their outrage known to Congress in no uncertain terms might the burden of unfunded mandates be lifted from the shoulders of state government.

One common thread of agreement among specialists in the mandate arena is the need for accurate cost estimations.[10] They are necessary to provide taxpayers, state and local lawmakers, and special interest groups with the ammunition necessary to give federal legislators something to be concerned about.