Washington - A Senate committee approved legislation yesterday that would require Congress to take a separate vote to impose any new spending requirement on states and localities unless funds were provided to pay the added costs of the federal mandates.
The legislation, approved by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee on a voice vote, also would require Congress to estimate the cost of any legislation that imposes new spending mandates on state and local governments and then request the added funds needed to pay for the new program.
The bill would require the Congressional Budget Office to conduct an analysis of future legislation to determine the cost to the states of complying with federal regulations that subsequently would be written to carry out the measure.
If the CBO determines the cost is more than $50 million annually, the committee drafting the bill must authorize the funds needed to pay the cost projected by the budget office.
Then it would be up to the appropriations committees to provide the actual funds.
While praising the bill as a step forward toward easing the financial burden of unfunded federal mandates, some committee members still found fault with the bill because appropriations are not required, only requested.
"I'm afraid by excluding the appropriations committees it will reinforce the tendency of people to put legislation [amendments] on the appropriations bills on the floor because it will not be subject to this requirement. I think the results of this will be the opposite" of what is desired, said Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga.
Nonetheless, state and local officials said they support the bill.
The legislation will not stop Congress from passing unfunded mandates, but it adds some accountability to the process, said Frank Shafroth, the lead lobbyist for the National League of Cities. Basically, the bill says, "~We're going to screw you, and this is how much it's going to cost you,'" Shafroth said.
The most significant provision in the bill is the requirement that Congress must take a separate vote to impose a new mandate if funds are not provided to pay the cost of the new program, said Jim Martin of the National Governors' Association. A "separate, clearly recorded up or down vote" is required on whether to impose an unfunded mandate on the state, Martin said.
Under the bill, federal agencies would also be required to conduct cost analysis studies of new regulations. The agencies also would be directed to develop a process of getting state and local input on all new major regulations because the state would have to implement them.
"The bill does not prohibit Congress from passing unfunded federal mandates. It does not say you cannot pass unfunded federal mandates. There may be some time when it is appropriate to ask states and local governments to pick up the tab for a federal mandate .... It only requires the consideration of the cost, with a separate vote on the specific mandate in the bill to take place on the Senate floor," said Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee.
The bill would also authorize an additional $2.3 billion through fiscal 1999 to the annual CBO budget for the work it would take to complete the cost analyses.
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., offered an amendment, approved by a 9-to-5 vote, requiring CBO analysis of the costs to the private sector as well. Several senators, including Glenn, objected to the amendment because of the increased burden on the budget office. Dorgan's amendment would increase the CBO budget by $6 million annually to help the office meet the increased workload.
The bill would exclude any legislation containing compliance requirements for federal civil rights laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act; national security; and natural disasters.