Results of the 2020 Unfunded Mandates Survey
A Collaborative Report by the: Texas Association of Counties, County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas, Texas Conference of Urban Counties, Texas Association of County Auditors and County Treasurers Association of Texas
This survey was created to help explain the cost of unfunded and underfunded mandates on property tax payers. The following is an excerpt from the survey report. To view the report in full, go to www.countyprogress.com. Our special thanks to Tim Brown, senior analyst with the Texas Association of Counties County Information Program.
In the current political and legislative environment, there has been talk about further restricting the ability of counties to generate the revenue necessary to carry out their responsibilities. These responsibilities include duties mandated by state and federal law, as well as other services county residents expect but are discretionary.
These elements represent the basic cost of government that counties have provided since the days of the Republic. In recent legislative sessions, bills have passed that reduced the tax rate that could be set without an election and otherwise limited the ability of counties to generate revenue, yet they have ignored the basic cost of government and in no way address the burden placed on county property tax payers by unfunded and underfunded mandates (requirements placed on counties by the state that result in the expenditure of locally generated funds, such as property taxes, to pay for the costs of the requirement in whole or in part, respectively).1
In order to assist county officials in explaining the burden unfunded and underfunded mandates place on property taxpayers, several county associations joined together to conduct a survey of counties. These associations are the Texas Association of Counties, the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas, the Texas Conference of Urban Counties, the Texas Association of County Auditors, and the County Treasurers Association of Texas.
The mandates included in the survey do not represent all mandates placed on counties, but they do represent many of the more significant ones, and those that support the most basic services counties provide. We thank all the counties that participated, and we anticipate conducting this survey on a regular basis for the foreseeable future. It is critical for county officials to communicate with constituents, taxpayers, and legislators about what it is counties do, how they do it, and how it is funded. We trust this survey will prove useful to these efforts.
The 2020 Unfunded Mandates Survey, conducted online during 2020, forms the basis of this report. Data from 136 counties made it into this report. With a combined population of 21,166,676, these counties cover approximately 73% of the state’s 2019 population as estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau. The data was used to calculate percent increases as well as statewide extrapolations for survey questions (FY 2015, FY 2016, etc.). If a county provided data for five or fewer of those years, then that data was not used in determining percentages and extrapolations. Statewide extrapolations were based on Census Bureau population estimates for each year. Since the estimates for 2020 were not available at the time of writing this report, each county’s 2019 population estimate was used instead as a proxy for the 2020 extrapolations. Additionally, while the survey asked for expenditures for fiscal years 2015-2019, it asked for budgets for FY 2020 as counties had not completed their fiscal years at the time the survey commenced.
It should be noted that counties often provided FY 2020 budget numbers noticeably higher than prior year expenditures. This practice ensures that the county has sufficient funds available if needed during the fiscal year, but may contribute to spikes in some of the charts for FY 2020 statewide expenditures.
As the survey progressed, some counties completed their fiscal years, and a number of them noted on the survey form that they were providing expenditures on certain questions. In providing expenditures for FY 2020, some counties noted that the expenditures were provided “year to date.” Partial year expenditures for FY 2020 were used exactly as provided, which may have resulted in underestimating FY 2020 statewide expenditures. As a result, both the reported expenditures and the statewide extrapolations for FY 2020 are based on a combination of both budgeted amounts and actual expenditures. It is unknown to what extent the high budget data from some counties and low expenditure data from others canceled each other out in the statewide extrapolations for FY 2020. Statewide extrapolations do not make sense for every question on the survey. Therefore, where appropriate, the extrapolations were modified to cover only the counties covered by the identified mandates, bracketed to counties over certain population thresholds, or were left off entirely.
In addition to the survey data provided by counties, complementary data was collected from other sources instead of asking counties to provide information already available from public sources. For example, indigent defense data was obtained from the Texas Indigent Defense Commission.
Although there was significant variation between mandates, most mandates showed a significant tendency to increase in cost over time. While this was not always apparent from year to year, as costs increased in some years and decreased in others, the trend towards increasing costs became clear over the full multi-year period of the survey. However, even in those cases where costs were not trending upwards, unfunded and underfunded mandates impose a significant financial constraint on both county budgets and local taxpayers.
- “While requiring local governments to do more, the Legislature, at times, does not provide enough local funding to meet those requirements. This can sometimes force the affected local to raise taxes, reduce services, issue new debt, or, more typically, the local government is forced to absorb the cost of the new state mandate using existing resources.“ (Governor Abbott’s Bicentennial Blueprint from the 2014 Election. Accessed January 16, 2019 at https://townhall254.gregabbott.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/GregAbbottsWorkingTexansPlan.pdf.)