Lawmakers File Bills to Prohibit Unfunded Mandates
CJCAT Leadership Calls for County Support
When Rep. Burt R. Solomons (R-Carrollton) filed House Joint Resolution 56 calling for the prohibition of unfunded mandates, CJCAT President Don R. Allred was on hand to offer his applause.
“This is an important piece of legislation for counties and for the future of Texas,” said Allred, Oldham County judge. “Unfunded mandates from state and federal governments have been the single greatest factor in the increase of county budgets over the last few years.”
House Joint Resolution 56 (HJR56), filed on Jan. 10, calls for a constitutional amendment that would bar state lawmakers from imposing any mandates on local government without paying for them. The legislative language reads: “No bill enacted by the Legislature on or after January 1, 2012, requiring a local government to establish, expand or modify a duty or activity that requires the expenditure of revenue by the local government shall be effective until and unless the Legislature appropriates or otherwise provides for the payment or reimbursement, from a source other than the revenue of the local government, or the costs incurred for the biennium by the local government in complying with the requirement.”
As early as 2004, 253 counties passed resolutions decrying unfunded mandates and supporting a constitutional amendment prohibiting them, Solomons said. For many counties and cities that are at the statutory maximum tax rate, unfunded mandates give local governments no option but to cut services for their constituents. For those who are not capped out, unfunded mandates force tax increases.
“Unfunded mandates can have a devastating impact on county budgets and can limit a county’s ability to provide essential services by diverting funds already allocated to specific programs to the mandates sent down from the state,” said Hays County Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe, first vice president of the CJCAT.
Solomons has called upon counties to unite behind HJR56 and once again pass local resolutions in opposition to unfunded mandates on local governments. The Texas Association of Counties (TAC) has provided a sample resolution specifically in support of HJR56, which may be downloaded from www.county.org/resources/library/cissue/e01_03/resolution-UFM-HJR56.pdf.
Some 36 counties passed resolutions backing HJR 56 within a week of Solomons filing the legislation. As of press time, 71 counties had passed resolutions, according to Elna Christopher, director of media relations for TAC. If HJR56 or similar proposals achieve the required two-thirds supermajority vote in both the House and Senate chambers, Texas voters will then cast their ballots on the constitutional amendment in the November election.
On Jan. 27, Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas) filed the Senate version of Solomons’ constitutional amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 17 (SJR17). There will also be another proposed amendment filed to apply only to unfunded mandates upon counties, said Jim Allison, general counsel for the CJCAT.
Prior to 2004, the CJCAT addressed unfunded mandates in a resolution on fiscal notes with the following clause, “THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas urges the Legislature of the State of Texas, in all future legislative sessions, to expand the legislative fiscal note process to fully recognize all costs of any legislation to counties and to adopt a constitutional amendment or legislation to prohibit such unfunded and/or under-funded mandates.”
In 2004, the leadership crafted a resolution dedicated solely to the issue of unfunded mandates, which has been passed every year since 2004 by the State Association and its Regional Associations at their respective business meetings and has served as a key element of the CJCAT legislative platform.
“The primary legislative objective of the State Association is the prevention of unfunded mandates,” Allison said. “Legislators have an unending supply of ‘good ideas’ without funding. Every session, we successfully defeat numerous bills with proposed unfunded mandates. Despite our efforts, some unfunded mandates are enacted.”
Allison detailed one such mandate following the 2005 session in his column “Anatomy of an Unfunded Mandate” (see reprint, page 15).
The full text of the CJCAT resolution, “Opposition to Unfunded Mandates,” can be downloaded from www.cjcat.org (click on “Legislative Update”).
The approximate percent of the county budget consumed by unfunded mandates will vary from 50 percent to 70 percent, Allison said.
“The largest single mandated cost to counties is the jail cost of holding inmates for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ),” he continued. “This population includes both convicted felons awaiting admission to the Institutional Division and ‘blue warrant’ parole violators being held for hearing by the Parole Division.”
Bringing it Home
Unfunded mandates account for just over 50 percent of Ector County’s budget, according to a study conducted by the county auditor last year.
“Just to put this in context, our 2011 budget for our general fund is $43,835,737, so it is easily deduced that more than $20 million goes to unfunded mandates,” said Ector County Judge Susan Redford, director of the West Texas County Judges and Commissioners Association. “As the Texas Legislature attempts to make significant cuts to the state’s budget, it is quite foreseeable that the burden on local governments will increase. Our citizens will continue to need services that the state will no longer budget.”
The Ector County auditor produced a memo explaining some of the major issues Ector County will face with the proposed budget if HJR56 or companion legislation is not implemented:
v Juvenile Probation: Estimated 15 percent cut in funding, or about $150,000. Number of juveniles served is increasing which will require Ector County to allocate additional tax revenues to this function. Current direct allocation is $2.6 million.
v Adult Probation: Similar cuts as juvenile – question as to the impact of the courts and correctional services on adults if probation services are cut.
v Correctional: TDCJ is closing one state unit and eliminating 1,562 correctional officers. Question as to impact on the housing of inmates scheduled to transport to state facilities. Will Ector County be required to hold these inmates longer thereby increasing local costs?
v Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation (MHMR): MHMR transport program is to be eliminated – $70,000 loss to Ector County.
Other: With budget cuts to MHMR programs, local MHMR offices will be requesting additional funding from local governments to maintain current services.
v Elections: Election and voter registration funding down 12.4 percent, which will require Ector County to allocate additional funds to support this function. State provides educational and equipment funding.
v Law Enforcement: Criminal Justice Division grants down 55.8 percent. State funded programs such as drug enforcement will require additional local funding to support. Prior to FY2010, Ector County received an average of $150,000 per year.
v Indigent Defense: Grant program to be cut 13.6 percent requiring additional local tax dollars to fund. FY2010 funding was $194,000. Program cut equates to approximately $27,000.
v Jury Pay Reimbursement: To be cut 14.8 percent; again, additional local tax dollars will be required. Funding represents some $60,000. Cut represents approximately $9,000.
v Department of Housing and Community Affairs: Department is to be eliminated, and Department of Rural Affairs is to be cut 30 percent – may affect water and sewer grants in outlying areas of Ector County.
v Department of Transportation: To be cut 30 percent. Impact unknown.
v Texas Department of State Health Services: Projected cuts/elimination of various grant programs to provide rural health and HIV services.
v Council of Governments: Councils of Governments (COGs) are partially funded by the State of Texas. Should funding be eliminated/reduced, COGs will be requesting dues increases from local governments to continue.
Ector County receives various other taxes such as the alcohol beverage tax, motor vehicle tax and bingo taxes.
“While I have not seen any legislation impacting these, the State of Texas could change allocation methods,” the auditor reported. “Then, there are all the various fees and court costs generated by Ector County to which a portion, per statute, is remitted to the state.”
Lubbock County anticipates similar issues, with the potential impact of unfunded mandates “shaping up to possibly affect every area of our county budget,” said Lubbock County Commissioner Patti Jones, president of the West Texas County Judges and Commissioners Association. Areas of concern include road and bridge operations, indigent health care, indigent defense, and MHMR funding, which will directly affect emergency room operations.
In fact, Lubbock County has already begun to meet in groups of about seven to eight elected officials/department heads to ask for voluntary reductions in budgets.
“The potential impact of future unfunded mandates will simply mean our service level will decrease countywide, and discretionary programs will be cut, as well,” Jones said, including libraries, volunteer fire departments, etc.
“Many times unfunded mandates are unintended consequences,” she continued, “but realistically we have to deal with those consequences on the local level.”
The CJCAT and its leadership team will, as always, keep vigil throughout the session with a watchful eye on any and all legislation that could result in an unfunded mandate, whether intended or unintended.
“We are going to spend most of our time making sure that the Legislature does not solve the state’s budget deficit by shifting responsibility and cost down to the counties,” said CJCAT Legislative Committee Chairman John Thompson, Polk County judge. “All county officials should start now and stay close to their state elected officials and make sure they know where we stand.”
One method to communicate the county message is to pass resolutions calling for the prohibition of unfunded mandates at the local level and make sure copies of these resolutions land directly in the hands of the lawmakers. H – By Julie Anderson