February 15, 2011
It’s a popular way to balance a tough (or not-so-tough) budget: if the state can’t pay for something, it can try to make someone else pay for it.
The problem is obvious: in passing costs off to local governments and taxpayers, the legislature isn’t doing things any smarter or more efficiently – it’s just raising costs and tying the hands of locals.
My legislation – a bill and an amendment to the Texas Constitution – would end this practice once and for all.
The amendment would declare that cities, counties, school districts and others are exempt from mandates if there isn’t money to pay for them (not counting those necessary to comply with the Texas Constitution, federal law or a court order, or those that deal with crime).
Those obligations would be identified by a seven-member work group (created under the related bill) consisting of the state auditor, budget writers, legislators and local officials.
After a legislative session, the group would come up with a list of new requirements that the legislature didn’t fund, or old requirements for which those in control withdrew funding.
And before a legislative session, the group would analyze mandates passed by the legislature and evaluate the costs and benefits of those requirements.
Through this process, the legislation would vest responsibility where it belongs. Local elected officials would be responsible for following the dictates they can afford. And the state would have to actually fund those things it wants to achieve – and not simply make someone else pay for them.