Impact of Unfunded Mandates

Member Group : Lincoln Institute

Our Founding Fathers envisioned a nation in which there was a separation of powers such that the legislative, the executive, and the judicial branches were held in check and balance.

Concurrently, the legislature was established so that the House of Representatives represented the people and the Senate represented the interests of the states.

In the document of the Constitutional design of the United States Senate, it states:

"The framers of the Constitution created the United States Senate to protect the rights of individual states and safeguard minority opinion in a system of government designed to give greater power to the national government. They modeled the Senate on governors’ councils of the colonial era and on the state senates that had evolved since independence"

The passage of the 17th amendment the United States Constitution effectively undermined critical aspects of the balance of powers. The 17th amendment stripped the states of direct representation. It paved the way for the states to lose their representation which then put the nation and our very liberties at risk.

Nowhere is the problem of separation of powers seen more clearly than in the case of unfunded federal mandates on the states which, because of the 17th Amendment, become merely implementers of Federal and Executive policies and laws.

For instance, unfunded mandates in the area of education have saddled schools, local communities, and taxpayers with burdens of unparalleled proportions.

In the case of cost of education, schools relay on state taxes and property taxes to fund these unfunded mandates as well as locally desired programs. The unfunded mandates are called "cost drivers".

A cost driver is nothing more than the activity that creates the cost. In the case of education, cost drivers would include Common Core, No Child Left Behind, Special Education, English as a 2nd language, and other types of program costs.

In order to solve the problems of the unfunded Federal mandates on school budgets and what is driving the increases in income and property taxes you must identify the cost drivers of the school budget.

In just one example, a principal cost driver of the school budget is the cost associated with educating children with disabilities. The cost is real and is very much needed. The problem is the cost is an unfunded federal mandate.

I have seen the impact of this unfunded mandate as well as the need to help children during the 28 years I volunteered on the board of directors for a home and school for children with disabilities and emotional and behavioral problems.

Unfortunately, the federal government’s prescription for helping children with disabilities and for their families is left without funding leaving it to the local community and school district to deal with the after effects and leaving children and their families very vulnerable.

This unsatisfactory funding approach puts parents of children with disabilities in the unfortunate position of searching for school districts that have programs that meet the diverse needs of their children.

Equally problematic, the school district finds that its ability to budget is significantly impacted by the unknown costs associated with such a varying degree of disabilities.

The magnitude of the problem is between 12 to 17% of a schools’ budget is incurred to help children with disabilities with the limited assistance from the federal government.

In other words, the federal government creates a requirement but provides no funding such that property taxes must be increased. In short the federal government pits neighbor against neighbor all because the balance of power was disturbed and Executive powers of the Federal Government have gone unchecked.

To restore the balance of power and to provide for sanity in funding and programs, the power of the states must be restored to allow for proper checks and balances. This, in essence, will mean that Federal laws are funded federally, state laws funded at the state level and local laws funded locally. Anything short of that is disastrous to our liberties.

In the case of children with disabilities, such an approach would provide consistency in the treatment of these deserving children nationwide and provide peace of mind to their families and at the same time relieving the burden on the property tax owner to fund such important programs.

Parents of children with disabilities should not have to move to get the help they need and communities cannot shoulder all the costs of such programs without a holistic approach in our nation.

Our children with disabilities and their families deserve our utmost respect and admiration. Our homeowners deserve to be insulated is well. It is a very challenging problem which can be solved if we all work together.

The unintended consequences of disturbing our systems of checks and balances are profound and severe. Those who pass the laws must fund them! Balance must be restored.

Col. Frank Ryan, CPA, USMCR (Ret) represents the 101st District in the PA House of Representatives. He is a retired Marine Reserve Colonel and served in Iraq and briefly in Afghanistan and specializes in corporate restructuring. He has served on numerous boards of publicly traded and non-profit organizations. He can be reached at [email protected].