[Guess which school system in Berrien County will NOT receive any of these funds? --answer at end]
Board approves resolution to make the state pay more
By Scott Aiken H-Palladium
Friday, January 22, 2010
ST. JOSEPH - Berrien County officials support a resolution that calls for laws to force the state to pay for services it mandates from local governments and school districts.
The resolution adopted by Berrien County commissioners Thursday calls for an end to so-called unfunded mandates.
The Legislative Commission on Statutory Mandates has suggested steps to eliminate unfunded mandates, programs and services the state calls for but fails to fund. The commission concluded in a December report that unfunded mandates, while commonplace, subvert the intent of the Headlee Amendment to the state Constitution, approved by voters in 1978.
The commission was formed by the Legislature in 2007 to investigate the cost of funded and unfunded mandates to local governments and to recommend changes.
Berrien County commissioners voted to approve a resolution encouraging the state to adopt the LCSM recommendations, which include steps to prevent new unfunded mandates and mitigate those already in effect.
Underfunding of state mandates cost local government units and school districts $2.2 billion to $2.9 billion in 2009 alone, the commission said.
"It's the best chance we've had in a long time to get the state's attention on unfunded mandates," county Administrator Bill Wolf said.
With the state in a budget crisis, Wolf said, it's not likely it will spend money to make up for past underfunding. But taking steps to prevent future abuses would greatly benefit local governments and schools.
The Headlee Amendment prohibits the state from reducing its portion of costs of any existing activity or service required of local government by state law. Any increase in existing activity or a new activity or service cannot be required of local units unless the state appropriates money for it.
The LCSM found a "stark history of noncompliance" with Headlee going back 31 years. Checks and balances put in place when the amendment was enacted have failed, the commission said, and reform is needed.
The commission recommended that new laws should be written to require the drafting of a fiscal note before a law could take effect.
Funding would then have to be set aside for it before an appropriation bill could be passed.
Challenges to whether a requirement was a mandate or not would be heard by a special master through an appeals court action. The court would be required to rule within six months of filing.
If the court failed to rule, any affected local government or school district could discontinue the service until the state complied with the Headlee Amendment.
The Senate Fiscal Agency says state support for local governments has dropped 20.7 percent since 2003, while colleges get 16.4 percent less and public schools get 6.8 percent less.
Several organizations representing schools and local and county governments submitted lists of unfunded mandates for inclusion in the LCSM's final report.
The Michigan Association of Counties listed eight, some in effect before the Headlee Amendment was approved and others that came later. They totaled $39.8 million to $43.8 million. The counties association did not specify the time period.
Michigan School Business Officials, a professional organization, estimated that the state has underfunded the pension program for public schools by $1.46 billion over the past 30 years. School districts that once paid 5 percent of the pension costs now pay all of them, the result of cost shifting by the Legislature.
Wolf said the recommended changes, which are to be considered by the Legislature, might be enough to get the state to back off from gradually chipping away funding for local government.
[Benton Harbor school system will get NONE of these funds]