WASHINGTON --The U.S. Conference of Mayors urged Congress yesterday to approve legislation before recessing this fall that is designed to deter the federal government from imposing unfunded mandates on state and local governments.
After returning in mid-September, "Congress will be in session only four weeks before scheduled adjournment, and mayors Want to ensure that the [bill] will not lose out in the press of final business," said Mayor Victor Ashe of Knoxville, Tenn., president of the mayors association, at a press conference yesterday.
Ashe said the mayors want the Senate to act on the bill to put pressure on the House. The bill is ready for floor action in the Senate, but it still had one more panel to go through in the House.
The bill, called the Federal Mandate Accountability and Reform Act of 1994, was approved by a Senate panel in June and a House subcommittee in August.
Both President Clinton and Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., have expressed support for the bill, and with the current partisan mood in Congress, that bipartisan support gives the bill a very good chance of passing, local officials have said.
The bill would require the Congressional Budget Office to analyze future legislation to determine the cost to the states of complying with proposed federal regulations. If the CBO determines the compliance costs are more than $50 million annually, the drafting committee must find sources of funding.
If the funding isn't authorized at the committee level, a separate vote on whether to impose the mandate could be demanded when the bill in considered by the full House or Senate.
State and local organizations believe that requirement could give the measure some teeth because it would force lawmakers to go on record as having voted to pass on an unfunded federal mandate to the states.
"I think mayors are doing everything they can to convince the Congress to move to closure on this badly needed legislation," Ashe said.
In a letter to Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, D-Maine, the mayors urged "immediate action" on the bill.
"The mayors of this nation have spent the last year and one half focused on the issue of unfunded federal mandates. We have formed task forces, we have conducted surveys, we have held rallies, we have engaged in grassroots lobbying cfo forts, we have testified and have built support on Congress," the mayors said in the letter dated Aug. 10 and signed by Ashe; Seattle Mayor Norman Rice, U.S. Conference of Mayors vice president; and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, chairman of the conference's advisory board.
Along with ,trying to get congressional support for the bill, Ashe said the mayors have been trying to educate the voters about unfunded federal mandates and the effect they have on city budgets.
For example, in October, when Knoxville sends out its annual property tax bill, Ashe said he will enclose a notice indicating that 15% of the bill is going to the city's efforts to comply with unfunded federal mandates.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors released a study last year detailing the costs that cities pay in lost services when the federal government uses mandates to set local priorities.
Many of the 314 cities responding to the survey indicated infrastructure, police, and fire services suffered the most when local money was taken to comply with federal regulations.
If the federal lawmakers are so interested in setting local priorities, they ran for the wrong office, Ashe said. "The Congress of the United States is becoming the city council for American cities," he said.