Cumberland Times-News

December 11, 2012

Give us a break

Unfunded mandates hit local, county governments

Cumberland Times-News

— There’s an old saying that ... slightly rephrased ... suggests you should never write a check with your mouth that another part of your body will have to cover.

Taken another way, federal and state governments write checks that county and municipal governments will have to cover — and there’s no money in the account.

The phenomenon is referred to as “unfunded mandates.” In plain English, that means federal and state governments tell county and municipal governments what they have to do, and don’t provide the money for it. (The feds, for their part, do the same thing to state governments.)

Allegany County’s government recently said its staff has spent 1,250 hours complying with the Storm Water Management Act of 2007 and more than 3,000 hours to meet requirements of the 2010 Chesapeake Bay cleanup and county Watershed Implementation Plan.

This is “taxing local resources,” said Allegany County Adminisrator David Eberly. “Taxing” is a good word for it, because our county’s taxpayers are footing the bill.

Another example of an unfunded mandate is the state’s decision to shift hundreds of millions of dollars in pension costs to county governments, which already are strapped for cash.

There also are the federal Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Homeland Security Act, Individuals with Disabilities act and No Child Left Behind Act, which have noble purposes but leave states with the burden of paying to comply with them or face substantial fines and penalties.

Unfunded mandates are nothing new. More than 30 years ago, former school Superintendedent Wayne Hill said in an interview with the Times-News that more than a dozen teachers were retiring at the end of the school year, and there were no plans to replace them because of a decreasing student population.

However, he said, the county would start the next year with even more teachers because of certain programs handed to the school system by the state and federal governments.

Don’t you wish you could simply order whatever you want, and give someone else the bill?

Maybe you have a conscience and wouldn’t do that ... but some of the people in Washington, Annapolis and other state capitals seem to have no problem with the idea.