Local Legislators: Federal Unfunded Mandates Harm State and Local Governments

WASHINGTON, DC – The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management, under the chairmanship of Senator James Lankford (R-OK), today held a hearing on the federal government’s regulatory relationship with state and local governments and challenges they face in implementing congressional and agency unfunded mandates.

“Government that is closest to the people is often the most responsive and the least harmful,” said Lankford. “When someone in D.C. gets a ‘good idea,’ it often costs local governments millions of dollars. Today’s hearing asked three simple questions: before a new mandate is imposed from Washington, can we consult those affected, consider the cost on communities, and make sure all agencies play by the same rule. Federal agencies must do a better job of considering the costs to state and local governments before they implement new regulations. Today’s witnesses confirmed that unfunded mandates from the federal government on state and local governments often take away needed resources that fund important local priorities, like education or transportation.”

The Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995 (UMRA) was originally designed to ensure that congressional deliberation and agency regulation took into account the costs to state and local governments to implement new requirements. Since that time, concerns have been expressed about the efficacy of the legislation, inconsistency in the application of its requirements, and inadequacy of agency consultation with state and local governments.

Congresswoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) testified during the hearing on legislation she sponsored—the Unfunded Mandates Information and Transparency Act (UMITA)—stating, “Let me be clear- UMITA is not an anti-regulation bill…. UMITA is a bill to make our regulatory apparatus more efficient, effective, and transparent. UMITA has bipartisan DNA, and is truly about good government, openness, and honesty about the cost of regulations. These principles do not belong to either party.”

Utah State Senator and National Conference of State Legislatures President Curtis S. Bramble said, “The experience of state and local governments, coupled with our view of what constitutes a mandate, supports the need for UMRA to be changed.”

National Association of Counties First Vice President and Leon County, Florida Commissioner Bryan Desloge said, when speaking of the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers’ Water of the U.S. regulation, “We lodged complaints early on, it seemed that the Corps and the EPA were not in tandem on this and we got kind of conflicting messages.  We felt like we didn’t get all the information, and in the end we kind of felt like we got run over.” On the reforms outlined in UMITA, he stated “we want a seat at the table, and I commend you for this, this is a great tune-up of the existing legislation and we would just like the opportunity to be there early and to be there throughout the entire process.”

George Mason Professor Paul Posner said, “It is not surprising that most federal mandates are carried out, not by direct order, but by conditions of aid. With federal assistance approaching nearly $700 billion, the federal government uses the Trojan Horse of grants to project a wide range of requirements on the states and localities.”

CLICK HERE to read the hearing opening statements and view the full hearing video. CLICK HERE to view video of Senator Lankford’s opening statement and question and answer period.