By Elna Christopher
Director of Media Relations
Rep. Burt Solomons (R-Carrollton) held a news conference Jan. 12 with numerous local officials to announce the filing of HJR 56, a constitutional amendment that would make the state either pay for unfunded mandates or absolve local governments from carrying them out if the state does not provide appropriated funds or reimbursements.
At his news conference in the Capitol, Solomons strongly urged local officials to talk to their representatives and ask them to sign up as co-sponsors of the bill. Time is of the essence for officials to speak with their lawmakers, he told TAC after the news conference. Solomons hopes to get most of the House to sign on and will be working to do so during the week of Jan. 17.
TAC joins Solomons in recommending that you contact your representatives at once about this important legislation. The more who sign on, the more likely it is that the resolution will finally make it to the Calendars Committee and get to the House floor for a vote.
TAC Executive Director Gene Terry issued a statement at the news conference, thanking Solomons for filing the resolution and recalling past attempts by supportive legislators to ban unfunded mandates. Oldham County Judge Don Allred and Dallas County Commissioner Mike Cantrell spoke at the news conference on behalf of the County Judges and Commissioners Association and the Texas Conference of Urban Counties, respectively.
If passed by the Legislature, the amendment would be on the ballot in November of this year and, if voters approved it, take effect Jan. 1, 2012.
Counties are not alone in bearing the burden of unfunded mandates, and other legislators are taking action on several fronts, hopefully causing those legislators to consider the impact on local governments before they pass bills that would financially burden local governments and their property taxpayers. Bills and resolutions filed that address the problem at other levels of government include one by incoming Rep. James White (R-Lufkin). His bill would exempt school districts from complying with state educational mandates that carry a price tag, unless the state allocates the appropriate amount of funding to cover the costs.
Even Gov. Rick Perry has taken to condemning unfunded mandates by the state upon local governments, as he continues his campaign against mandates from Washington. The Dallas Morning News recently quoted Perry this way, "We need to look at all the unfunded mandates that are on our books, that we in our wisdom in Austin, Texas, said here is what you need to do." He added that those decisions are best left to local entities. And while he has been criticizing Washington regulations put on the states, he said, "If it's good for the goose, it's good for the gander." Likewise, the Associated Press reported that the governor “plans to propose reforms of unfunded mandates on local governments, or laws that require them to make expenditures but without giving them the funds to do so.”
The campaign by Perry and others against Washington mandates has translated into a resolution being filed by Rep. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe). The House concurrent resolution asks the federal government to end its practice of passing unfunded mandates to the state level. Such complaints targeted at the federal government demonstrate that lawmakers understand the undue burden caused by unfunded mandates that come from above; yet the Texas Legislature has been unwilling thus far to deal with the issue as it relates to the state’s imposing additional costs on local governments.