From the Capitol: Putting an End to Unfunded Mandates

February 3, 2015

As Connecticut residents, many of us face some similar financial challenges. Cost of living is expensive and high taxes on top of that create many challenges. High property taxes are particularly burdensome, which is why I’m working with fellow legislators this year to eliminate a factor that all too often drives up our local taxes: unfunded municipal mandates.

The term “unfunded mandate” refers to any regulation that requires a town to do something, without allocating any money from the state to help cover associated costs. Every time an unfunded mandate is forced upon a town, the local government has to find a way to pay for the added expense. Often, that only leaves one option for towns – raising property taxes.

That’s not a good thing, especially in Connecticut where our state is ranked #2 in the country for highest property taxes. So, while some state officials may think it’s a good idea to require all towns to pick up leaves, for example, or require towns to sweep their streets more often, we have to keep in mind that new requirements often have price tags. And more town expenses can have a negative impact on residents’ wallets.

When lawmakers put forward proposals that affect towns, I believe they should always include a way to fully fund the proposed plan and not push the costs off to a third party i.e. local taxpayers. To put this idea into action, I’m proposing legislation this year that would help eliminate and restrict unfunded mandates. That includes bills to sunset all unfunded state mandates, to require a two-thirds vote in the legislature to pass such mandates in the future, and a bill that would require the state to reduce or eliminate unfunded mandates on municipalities to offset any new state taxes. By reducing and eventually eliminating unfunded mandates, we could lesson property taxes by preventing new costs from falling on towns.

The logic here is simple. Don’t create a new requirement without first making sure the state can afford to pay for it. Yes, most all mandates are well intentioned. But unfunded mandates are what create problems.

We see a version of this problem even on a national level. For example, President Obama recently put forward a “free” community college proposal. Of course everyone would love to see more affordable and accessible education opportunities. Free college would be incredible. But, who exactly would pick up the bill? Someone has to pay for the expenses associated with an education. Has the president checked to see if all the states could afford these costs? If a state cannot afford it, who will pay for it?

When lawmakers have an idea, it has to be complete. And, it cannot be complete until it identifies a funding source. Costs should not fall back on taxpayers. We always have to look at the big picture and we have to protect our towns to protect residents. Eliminating municipal mandates is a big picture solution to a shortsighted problem.