Monday, December 17, 2007

Unfunded Mandates

What happens when the Florida Legislature, which is in charge of the state budget, can't afford to pay for everything? It shifts the burden to city and county budgets.

According to the Florida Association of Counties a number of unfunded mandates are passed down to our 67 counties:

Medicaid - $213 million
Department of Juvenile Justice - $100 million
Revenue Sharing Loss - $262 million - Since 1999, tax cuts by the Legislature have resulted in a series of revenue cuts to county budgets
Court Facilities - $83 million
Solid Waste Recycling Grants Loss - $17 million - Counties are mandated to do this and costs initially were picked up by grants – which were later cut from the state budget.
Special Risk Retirement, Disability and Workers Compensation - These costs cover the special needs of firefighters and law enforcement personnel
Mental Health Treatment in Jails - actual dollar amount unknown, but this is a significant recurring impact to county budgets.
Environmental and Growth Management Compliance - actual dollar amount unknown but this is a significant recurring impact to county budgets - Completion of each county’s comprehensive land use plan requires that the plan has built-in financial feasibility
Zero Tolerance - $100 million

The quantifiable total is close to $1 billion in unfunded mandates - yet the financial impact of three mandates highlighted above cannot be quantified.

In other words, each year local governments are covering $1 billion of expenses that were historically the responsibility of the state, with no state funding support attached.

And while the Legislature is currently debating the largest local government revenue cut in state history, they are at the same time discussing additional unfunded mandates.

An article in News Press last month provides more detail on the expenditures passed down to counties with regards to juvenile justice: State's bills for juvenilles challeged

The state's Department of Juvenile Justice is overbilling some counties for juvenile detention costs, according to the counties' officials, and the agency lacks documentation to back up its figures.

A recent Auditor General's report supported some of those claims, saying the department did not show enough information to support its estimates and payments for holding juvenile offenders before their cases get settled in court.


With property tax cuts already enacted by the Legislature and a $12 billion property tax relief proposal on the Jan. 29, ballot, counties say unfunded mandates like juvenile detention costs become even more difficult for them.

The article lists state estimates of what it will charge counties for holding juvenile offenders. Statewide, counties are picking up about $101.1 million.

In Collier County a commissioner mentioned the costs passed along to that county over the years:
“Since 2000 we’ve had about $8 million in unfunded mandates sent down to this county alone,” [Collier County Commissioner Frank] Halas said. “When they can’t meet their budgets they send more unfunded mandates down to us and I’m tired of it.”

Unfunded Mandates for Schools

Miami Herald - State must spend more for education

Two recommendations concern school-district funding:

• First, the state cannot continue to impose programs with which we must comply without giving us the money to do so. The class-size amendment is one of several costly examples. School districts have had to figure out how to lower class sizes or construct more classroom space without receiving sufficient state funding for the task.

• Second, even though education is a state function, local governments have increasingly been asked to fund schools. For several years, with the boom in home prices, the local cost may not have been sufficiently painful for us to complain. The percentage of state funds received dwindled, and county taxes swept in to cover the shortfalls. Now, with the real-estate decline, we can try to lower property taxes only if we insist that the state resume its responsibility for funding education.

I will ask the Miami-Dade School Board at the December meeting to adopt a resolution urging the TBRC to recommend to the state to stop unfunded mandates and to resume funding education.

Naples News - Groups lobby Collier state legisative delegation

Collier School’s Superintendent Dennis Thompson asked that the state impose no unfunded mandates on the schools that would cost the district money.

News Zap - Local officials get bad news; Legislative delegation to county: State facing budget cuts
“To start with, let’s talk about things that won’t cost you any money,” said school board member Joe Arnold as he began his presentation. He proposed a constitutional amendment to clarify the issue of classroom size.

He said that on the FCAT if students in the lowest 25 percentile do not show improvement, the school drops a letter grade. He proposed an incentive program rather than the current punitive measures.

Stricter qualification for home school teachers was one of several other educational issues Mr. Arnold raised. He said that often a student will be home schooled for a period of time. When they come back to school they are at the same level academically as when they left. He also asked that the legislature not pass any unfunded mandates for schools.

Sun-Sentinel - High quality promised, but not given
1. Get the state Legislature out of the business of creating education policy. What they collectively know about teaching and learning could fit in a thimble. The biggest obstacle to improving our public schools is posturing political hacks. One year, some yokel introduces a bill to guarantee there's a U.S. flag in every classroom. Another time, another maven decides that trans fat should be banned from meals in school cafeterias. In addition to social engineering, legislators pass countless unfunded mandates, which drain resources classroom teachers need to get their real job done.

So, when you complain about your property tax bill, keep in mind that it is not all you local government's fault, the state is culpable as well.