Thursday, February 03, 2011

Heineman and Boyle Both Right on State Subsidies to Local Governments

Gov. Dave Heineman wants to end non-K-12 state subsidies to local governments. Douglas County Commissioner Mike Boyle argued against it. They're both right.

Heineman is right to say local governments should fund whatever services they think appropriate with local taxes. But Boyle made a crucial point in an Omaha World-Herald news story: “The county is part of the state, and we deliver the services you tell us to.” The counties are subdivisions of the state, a fact the state legislature cites when handing down mandates -- but seems to forget when it comes to paying for the mandates.

Unfunded mandates. As a state senator, I supported a bill introduced by State Sen. Phil Erdman that would have required the state to provide funding for any mandates imposed on local governments. We junior back-benchers were dismissed by the leadership. Imagine state government having to pay for the mandates it produced.

The federal government has set the example of handing down mandates -- such as the sewer project for Omaha -- and leaving the tab to the recipient of the mandate further down the flow chart.

I would be more excited about the governor's proposal if it included legislation eliminating unfunded mandates from state government to the counties and cities.

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