States cry foul over unfunded mandates

The federal government's reluctance to fully fund programs that it foists onto the states is stirring unrest among state officials, according to budget and legislative experts.

The list of so-called unfunded mandates continues to grow unchecked as federal assistance to states overall gradually declines, said state budget and legislative experts at the "Outlook 2004 in the States" conference, sponsored by Governing magazine in Washington today.

"This has become a rallying cry for states in dealing with the federal government," said Marcia Howard, director of the Federal Funds Information for States, a Washington-based group that reports on the impact of federal budget and policy decisions on state government.

President Bush's budget proposal released this week includes a 3 percent cut in major state programs, Howard said.

The unfunded mandates cover a wide range of programs, including election reform, homeland security, No Child Left Behind and special education.

While the federal government has provided funding in all of these areas, it hasn't been sufficient enough for full implementation, state budget experts said.

The president's 2005 budget proposal includes $3.6 billion to support state and local police, fire and emergency medical personnel. Between fiscal 2001 and the fiscal 2005 budget request, the federal government expects to provide more than $14.5 billion to first responders. The Homeland Security Department has provided $8 billion to first responders since March 2003.

William Pound, executive director of the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures, said the only recourse states have for resolving the issue is to step up the pressure on the federal government to fund the mandates it passes down to them.

State legislators are united in their effort to get the government to provide additional funding, he said.

"This is an issue that cuts across party lines in state government," Pound said.

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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