Local Savings Act Seeks End to Unfunded Mandates
By Gina Jordan
Tallahassee, FL – City and county leaders from around Florida descended on the steps of the Old Capitol Wednesday to announce the Local Savings Act. It's a plan that they say could save taxpayers millions of dollars with little or no cost to the state.
The Florida Association of Counties and the Florida League of Cities are seeking an end to the dreaded unfunded mandate.
"It is a program or service that the state or federal government requires local governments to provide, but without providing funding to pay for it."
Tallahassee Mayor John Marks is league president. As an example, he cites runaway pension costs for police officers and firefighters that he says threaten to put Florida cities on the road to financial ruin.
"The current system of extra pension benefits cannot be sustained without significant property tax increases on our citizens, that is as long as those mandates continue to be unfunded. Now if the state can find a way to fund those mandates, that would be wonderful."
The league has teamed up with the Florida Association of Counties to promote the Local Savings Act, an initiative aimed at saving more than $270-million in local taxes. It contains about a dozen recommendations, like eliminating unnecessary court expenditures for a savings of $18.5-million a year. Alachua County Commissioner Rodney Long is president of the association.
"We are required, whether the court system needs it or not, to provide court infrastructure by an increase every year out of our dollars of 1.5-percent, regardless of whether or not it is needed."
Long says they also want to postpone the deadline for providing new voting equipment for people with disabilities, giving the technology time to catch up with the law.
"These requirements are in place that would cost more than $45-million to upgrade voting equipment by 2012 for Florida's disabled. But the problem is the technology does not exist that can guarantee this vulnerable population a secure vote."
They support legislation to standardize reimbursement rates for medical providers who care for inmates and arrestees. Representative Ed Hooper, Republican of Clearwater, says hospitals can charge the sheriff, which really means the taxpayers, whatever they want.
"The hospital association is a very strong lobby here, and they testified against this bill, stating that we have so many agreements in place and we negotiate rates with our doctors and our insurance companies and everybody gets a discount. Somebody has to pay full freight.'"
Gulf County Commissioner Bill Williams is second vice president of the association. He says voters often don't realize the impact at home of initiatives that are enacted by the state without any funding.
"From healthcare and jail costs to liners to the landfills, everything adds up, and it's very hard to describe why we're paying that as we go through. So our objective here today in working with the Legislature is to make sure that they understand that these costs are directly shifted to our citizens."
He says unfunded mandates equal tax hikes, and that's why the Local Savings Act is being brought to the attention of lawmakers.
"It's a cross section of many existing and proposed mandates that we can actually bring under control if they will listen and take those off the books or don't initiate them."
The league and the association are urging Floridians to contact their state Senators and Representatives and ask them to end unfunded mandates.