Mandan News

Exploring the effects of unfunded mandates

District 31 Update
By Rep. James Schmidt

“Unfunded mandates” are not dates with someone who has no money, at least in the world of government they are not. But it’s close.

What they are is one level of government dictating to another level of government what it will be required to do, and it will have to do it without being provided sufficient funding.

We’d like to avoid that situation as much as possible, if not in total. However, in the social service world it happens. And it could happen a lot more from the federal level. The federal government dictates to state government. State government dictates to county government. And the funds that follow are often not enough to cover the costs.

So the burden lies on county government to deliver and fund some of the social programs, required by law, without receiving total funding. This puts a financial burden on the county government to collect revenues to cover the costs. It also requires county government to hire and pay employees to implement these programs. The revenues that are not provided and needed to do this are generated through our property taxes.

There has been some discussion amongst my colleagues whether or not the state should fund all aspects of social services. Meaning all the necessary funding, including those employed at the county level to deliver the programs, would be a state obligation. That could also mean that those county employees would become state employees supervised by the state.

Some question whether the county employees should remain as county employees or be state employees.

Some question whether or not the state could deliver the programs more effectively and efficiently.

Some see the state assuming the social services as a way to “regionally consolidate” those services, thereby reducing duplication and costs. Which could mean some services could be negatively impacted as well.

Should the state assume those expenses and the employees, it would, or should, reduce our property taxes. Some would say it is not property tax reform but merely a shift in taxes from the county to the state and is not true reform.

So there remains many issues, challenges and unknowns to the state assuming the counties’ responsibility to deliver social services.

The Interim Taxation Committee has not taken any action regarding the state assuming social services. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other factions taking up the issue.

Given the current status of the federal government, unfunded mandates could increase. This could be a significant challenge in the upcoming legislative session. I’ll keep you posted.