Legislative Mandates:

State Experiences Offer Insights for Federal Action

HRD-88-75: Published: Sep 27, 1988. Publicly Released: Sep 27, 1988.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed state and federal attempts to deal with legislative mandates imposed on lower levels of government, focusing on: (1) their processes for estimating the mandates' cost impacts; and (2) states' reimbursement practices for such costs.

GAO found that: (1) although the cost estimates improved congressional understanding of state and local costs, they had little effect on five of eight bills it reviewed because legislators were more concerned with programs and policy issues than with state and local costs; (2) at the state level, cost estimates had a significant impact if the states prepared them early in the legislative process; (3) 14 states reimbursed local governments for state-mandated costs; (4) four of seven of those states deterred legislators from passing unfunded mandates through reimbursement requirements; (5) in three states, reimbursement requirements had little impact on legislative mandates; and (6) only one state had appropriated sufficient funding to defray local costs. GAO believes that the federal government could focus attention on the impact of federal legislation on state and local costs by providing estimates for key bills prior to full committee reports and biennial reports to increase legislators' awareness of mandated costs.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Congressional Budget Office has seen no indication of committees and members requesting cost estimates to be done earlier on selected legislation affecting state and local governments. Further, an interest group representing state legislatures is now monitoring congressional action on bills affecting state and local governments, which can help to focus congressional support.

    Matter: Congress may wish to ask the Congressional Budget Office to prepare state and local cost estimates for selected proposed legislation scheduled for subcommittee or full committee markup. Consultation with state and local government interest groups could help legislators identify significant mandate legislation warranting these estimates. Committees and members should also consider requesting estimates for floor amendments with potentially significant effects on state and local costs. Committees and members should request estimates on appropriation and tax bills that are identified as potentially affecting state and local costs.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Commission is continuing to pursue efforts to develop a cost estimating methodology it considers necessary for perparing a report such as suggested. It is uncertain, however, about the prospects of completing this effort or when it may be able to prepare the report recommended.

    Recommendation: The Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations should prepare a biennial report on the total estimated state and local costs of new mandates contained in legislation passed by each Congress.

    Agency Affected: Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations


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