June 28, 2009

... And What Happened to Lifting Mandates for Cities and Towns?

Monique Chartier

Here was one good attempt at relief - an amendment to the budget submitted by Rep John Loughlin.

Chapter 45-13 of the General Laws entitled "State Aid" is hereby amended by adding thereto the following section:

45-13-1.3. Relief from unfunded mandates. – Notwithstanding any provision to the contrary, contained in the appropriations for the support of the state for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2010, any general or public law, rule or regulation, the general assembly hereby relieves the school committee of any city or town from any unfunded mandates with the exception of those mandates pertaining to transportation, transportation safety and fire safety.

Killed, though the twenty one in favor was a tantalizingly respectable outcome. [Thanks to Rep John Loughlin for the info.] Below for the record are the twenty one representatives who voted to put the best fiscal interest of their districts ahead of other considerations.

Azzinaro Baldelli-Hunt Brien Driver Edwards Ehrhardt Fierro Loughlin Malik Newberry O'Neill Petrarca Pollard Rice, A. Rice, M. Schadone Sullivan Trillo Ucci Watson Winfield

Let's see, other mandates considered. Leaving the deployment of bus monitors to local discretion: sent back to committee.

Anything else? Nothing that passed, in any case. [Standing by to correct if this is wrong.]

Even Providence Mayor David Cicilline testified in favor of such measures! It is an absurd and irresponsible proposition to mandate certain operating conditions without simultaneously supplying the funds to implement them. At least the $9,000,000 loss generated by grayhound racing has slot revenue to cover it. The General Assembly has also ordered cities and towns to continue operating at a loss ... but in this case, without providing a revenue source to cover those losses.

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I have to wonder "what if" all the mayors and Town/City Council presidents banded together to sue the General Assembly for this sort of thing. I don't know on what grounds or law exactly, but to tell someone that you must do x, y, and z, but then not even give the funds to pay for those things is crazy.

One of the things we see with the US Congress and the states, and how they get around the 10th Amendment a little bit is to at least fund the mandates. Things like 21 year old drinking limits, 55 mph speed limits, all mandated by the Federal government. But how do you get around that pesky little 10th Amendment on state's rights? Congress simply says "Do it and we'll give you money. Don't do it and we won't give you money, your choice." Very similar situation, except worse. The cities aren't given the choice and they're not given the money.

I know we're a long ways off (6-7 years?) until the next possible Constitutional Convention, but we really need the equivalent of state's rights in our own constitution. No unfunded mandates, no cutting the funding to previously funded mandates. You can't pay for it, you get no say. Maybe cities and towns are stupid when it comes to their own finances, and the state is ultimately on the hook, but come on.

And while we're at it, why not make local government into a free enterprise. If you have cities like Central Falls and Woonsocket, where the people don't pay their own freight, make those cities available to be bought by another town. Maybe Lincoln, Cumberland or Smithfield could run those cities better. Let them have the option of merging in and taking them over and running them more efficiently, instead of letting those deadbeat cities be a drain on the rest of the state.

Posted by: Patrick at June 29, 2009 8:27 AM

Great idea. Apparently the reps weren't very brave, as Gordon Fox, told them they should be.

Cities and towns should fend for themselves, and eliminate the mandates anyway. What are they going to do, withold more funds?

Posted by: kathy at June 29, 2009 2:03 PM
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