WASHINGTON -- State and local governments want both a short- and long-term solution to the problem of unfunded federal mandates -- preferably a federal law and a constitutional amendment, lobbyists said yesterday.
After Congress convenes in January, states and localities hope to get the long-term part of their wish in the form of a constitutional amendment that the Senate Judiciary Committee is drafting. The amendment would bar Congress from imposing costly new requirements on state and local governments without providing the funds to pay for them, a Republican staff member said.
The amendment would also require Congress to approve by a two-thrids vote any legislation that imposed an unfunded mandate, the aide said.
State and local officials also hope to get a short-term solution early next year by convincing Congress to approve legislation that failed this year that would have deterred Congress from imposing unfunded mandates on state and local governments. Republican leaders have said they intend to reintroduce the legislation next year.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is drafting two constitutional amendments, the aide said. One would require a balanced federal budget, and the other would bar Congress from imposing unfunded mandates on the states.
The panel is also considering a third possibility: including a ban on unfunded mandates in the balanced budget amendment, the aide said.
State and local governments would support a separate constitutional amendment that bans unfunded mandates, but would prefer that the issue were part of a balanced budget amendment, said Larry E. Naake, executive director of the National Association of Counties.
Lobbyists for state and local governments said Tuesday that the states would not ratify a balanced budget amendment that didn't incorporate a ban on unfunded mandates.
"We don't want to see the federal government balance its budget at the expense of state, local, and county governments," Naake said.
States and cities can't run the risk of allowing a balanced budget amendment to be approved without guarantees that Congress will not try to balance the federal budget by shifting costs to state and local governments, said Mary-Margaret Larmouth, legislative assistant for the National League of Cities.
But relying on passage of two constitutional amendments in one legislative year would not be wise, Larmouth said.
The most "practical and political view" would be to bring unfunded mandates under the umbrella of a balanced budget amendment, Naake said.
However, state and local governments "still strongly believe in and are pushing for legislation" to deter Congress from passing on unfunded mandates to municipal governments, Naake said.
Implementing a constitutional amendment could take up to five years because it requires ratification by three-fifths of the states, Naake said. "We will need legislation in the interim," he said.
On Tuesday incoming House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., told the National Association of Counties and the U.S. Conference of Mayors that the House is ready to pass some form of unfunded mandates legislation.
The unfunded mandates legislation that moved through congressional committees last year would have required a separate vote on any unfunded mandate included in legislation. State and local officials liked that provision because it would have provided a record of which lawmakers approved shifting the federal government's costs to the local governments, Naake said.
Lobbyists for the major state and local lobbying groups, or the "Big 7" as they call themselves, will push for a bill with even bigger teeth next year, Naake said. "We want the strongest bill we can get, but are still committed to a bipartisan approach," Naake said.