Local government leaders have a novel request to put before the upcoming session of the General Assembly. They don't necessarily want more money from the state this year as much as they want Annapolis to stop passing laws that require vast local outlays of money to implement new state mandates. If lawmakers want to impose new statutes, local leaders say the state should also come up with the funds to pay for the added costs to their towns and counties.
It's not just a Maryland problem. Last October, municipal leaders across the nation held National Unfunded Mandates Day and a short time later Senate hearings commenced in Washington to consider the impact of unfunded federal mandates on cities and towns. Congress has become famous for passing sweeping legislation without any money set aside to help localities implement these costly new laws.
Annapolis hasn't been much better to the localities. For instance, in Prince George's County, a survey indicated that $60 million a year is being spent to carry out these unfunded state mandates. That's the equivalent of adding 50 cents to the Prince George's real estate property tax rate.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer has already pledged there will be no unfunded state mandates from his office this legislative year. Additionally, he has asked local leaders to point out state regulations that are unnecessary and unreasonable. Meanwhile, legislative leaders have embarked on a two-year study of these hidden costs dumped on local governments when state laws are enacted. The goal is similar to the governor's: identify unreasonable and needless laws and then either eliminate the laws or find ways for the state to pick up the costs.
There are roughly 750 statutory or constitutional mandates imposed on local governments by Annapolis. The largest number of these mandates are in the area of the environment (105), education (79), alcoholic beverages (57), public safety (53) and natural resources (42). Pinpointing the laws that are clearly unnecessary or unduly costly to localities would be a major step in the right direction. It would free up local money and manpower to improve existing government services while lowering the burden on the taxpayer.