Turnabout overdue in state-federal relations
By Staff Writer, Stateline
Although the bill was simple, Congress afforded governors, other state and local officials, and staff members from their associations the opportunity to review and offer input on the legislation. This courtesy preserved an appropriate balance by protecting state and local governments from costly mandates while not creating a major obstacle in the federal legislative process. While reactions about the effectiveness of the unfunded mandates legislation vary, it did reduce the number of mandates passed throughout the 1990s, often replacing them with incentives.The outreach to governors that began on unfunded mandates was continued throughout the welfare reform debate. The nation's governors were actively involved in determining the structure of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 passed by Congress and signed by the president during the summer of 1996. Cited by members on both side of the aisle as the most effective social legislation in decades, the welfare reform legislation signified a major culture change in breaking the cycle of dependence.
During the next several years, however, the relationship between state and local representatives and federal legislators began to deteriorate. This trend continued as Congress dramatically accelerated legislative initiatives that created unfunded mandates and preempted state regulatory authority. In 2001, Congress passed and the President signed the No Child Left Behind Act, an unfunded mandate that created a federal education framework and accountability system and imposed a significant testing burden on state governments. In subsequent years, numerous other legislative initiatives have created new unfunded mandates and preemptions of state regulatory and revenue authority.
What is astonishing about the duplicity involved in this process is that similar legislation already had been enacted. The Reform and Terrorism Preservation Act of 2004 included a "negotiated rule-making" process through which state and federal experts could work together to develop the outlines of a national policy and determine the timing and implementation of the most cost-effective approach. In fact, the relevant state organizations already had appointed their experts and held their first meeting when Congress repealed the law and enacted Real ID.
Based on detailed estimates of 47 states, Real ID will impose a cost of $11.3 billion on state governments over five years and cannot be implemented according to the timeline dictated by the legislation. This law was poorly drafted and reflects little appreciation of the obstacles such a mandate would impose on state government. Lack of participation by state and local officials has contributed to an untenable situation in which implementation will take far longer than necessary and carry a significantly higher cost.
The issues confronting our nation today are too important and complex to tolerate the burdens of a paternal Congress. The current condition of state-federal relations is something our nation can no longer afford.