WASHINGTON -- Presidential administrations sometimes give with one hand and take away with another.

That is exactly what the Clinton Administration did in the past month with its divergent treatment of states and localities in the matters of unfunded mandates and the North American Free Trade Agreement.

On Oct. 26, President Clinton won the praise of state and local officials by signing an executive order calling for a reduction in future federal regulations of unfunded mandates on state and local governments.

While the measure did not overturn existing laws, it cheered municipal officials because it put federal agencies on notice that they have to think twice before drafting burdensome regulations that could impose huge costs on states and localities.

After years of having to pick up a substantial portion of the cost of new federal programs without receiving added funding, municipal lobbyists saw Clinton, a former governor, as an ally who could help convince-Congress to at least ease some of the mandates and their costs.

Only a week later, however, the Clinton Administration sent a vastly different message to states and localities when it sent Congress its plan for funding the environmental cleanup along the U.S.-Mexico border, as called for in side agreements related to Nafta.

Although the plan called for "an unprecedented degree of local involvement" in improving the environment along the border, it made no provision for easing the curbs on tax-exempt bonds to make it easier for states and localities to finance their share of the cleanup.

In September, administration officials said $8 billion would be needed for the cleanup projects. Up to $2 billion would come from existing programs in Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas, including the use of state revolving loan funds and tax-exempt revenue bonds.

The Clinton officials said that the four state governments would have to use existing bond authority and should not expect any proposals to ease existing curbs.

The curbs are likely to make it difficult for the four states to fund their share of the cleanup, particularly the per capita state volume cap on private-activity bonds and the requirement that no more than 10% of a public-purpose bond issue can be used to benefit private business.

Despite the arguments of lobbyists, the final funding plan sent to Capitol Hill by the Treasury earlier this month contained no proposals that would make it easier for the four states to finance the cleanup.

Let's face it: The administration's failure to propose easing some of the tax-exempt bond curbs to aid the cleanup is just another unfunded mandate.

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