Tacoma News Tribune is Right, No More Unfunded Mandates

Tacoma News Tribune is Right, No More Unfunded Mandates

Washington State Legislative Building

This TNT editorial gets to the core problem with the Legislature’s propensity for unfunded mandates. Same-day registration is a great idea and good for our democracy. So are a number of other efforts to encourage participation in elections. In fact, there are a number of new policy bills moving this year that local governments will happily carry out, but only if it comes with the resources necessary to pay for them.

Elections are one of the many functions of state government carried out by counties on the State’s behalf. Because the service has to be conducted regardless of funding, or lack thereof, counties must scramble to find the money in our General Fund when the State walks out on the tab.

We sympathize with Anderson’s frustration. She says lawmakers and citizens continue to pile on requirements and raise expectations but “deprive us of oxygen.”

When an election falls on an odd year, the state foots the bill for local elections, but in even years like 2018, the money comes from the county’s general fund, which isn’t exactly a volcano of cash.

Anderson says accepting in-person voter registration and providing ballots to same-day voters could cost as much as $1.2 to 1.5 million. The unfunded mandate will require increased staffing, additional training, approximately 53 workstations and new or rented equipment.

With our main source of revenue capped beneath the rate of inflation and an increasing number of these unfunded mandates coming down from the Legislature, where do they expect us to find the money? More than 75 percent of our General Fund goes to public safety and justice services so you can imagine what’s happened historically.

That’s why Pierce and other counties across the state are having trouble with staffing levels in our respective Sheriff Departments. In Pierce County a recent study showed that despite progress in recent years, we’re still down 60 FTEs in commissioned and non-commissioned positions in PCSD.

A decade after the Great Recession counties continue to be in a state of budget crisis and it’s because of decisions like this.

Legislators need to remember that budgets reflect your values. If you don’t pay for something, it wasn’t really worth much to you in the first place. And if you don’t think it’s worth paying for, I’m not interested in losing a deputy to cover it.

We had hoped to begin making progress on the mother-of-all unfunded mandates this year, indigent defense, but even with an unexpected $1.2 billion in revenue we don’t see anything in either the House or Senate budgets.

Having watched this behavior now for a couple decades our patience is running out. As a result, it will be my recommendation that we simply refuse to perform these new unfunded duties. State agencies do it each year through “null and void” clauses. Basically if funding isn’t provided, they don’t perform the proscribed task.

A better outcome would be for the Legislature to pay their bills and we’ll happily do our job carrying out their instructions.

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