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Published on Monday, February 12, 2018

The time is right to remind legislators that new policy initiatives have local costs

Legislators consider and make policy choices – that’s a significant part of their jobs. When bills are introduced that expand or add new state responsibilities, fiscal notes are prepared and impacts are considered. Similarly, the same is true when they consider measures that add costs to cities, but with an important distinction.

If legislators want to move forward on a policy change that adds costs for the state, a fiscal committee considers that before a bill moves forward. Ultimately, if decisions are made to adopt the changes, there is most often a section of their operating or capital budget that appropriate funds to implement the changed direction.

When legislators consider and enact changes to what cities must do or need to address, fiscal impacts are sometimes available. At other times – particularly if it’s a new idea or responsibility, those impacts are hard to determine. In these instances, bills with new local responsibilities can and do keep moving and may or may not end up with appropriations in budgets to cover these added costs.

At this point in the 2018 session, there are several examples of legislator’s “good ideas” moving forward, that if enacted, will cost cities an indeterminate amount of money. Whether or not these costs can be accurately estimated, or matter to a majority of legislators who want to move ahead, is not yet known.

Example 1 – Voting Rights Act provisions

For the past five years, a majority of House members have sought to enact a state Voting Rights package of bills aimed at expanding opportunities for citizens to participate in and influence election outcomes. AWC’s line of thinking on these issues has evolved and we agree with most parts of the bills because cities want engaged citizens. Some of the provisions will add costs, either relatively minor for some parts or potentially significant if resulting in costly litigation. To help lessen these potential cost burdens, we continue to seek changes to SB 6002 that would help make it work with less fiscal exposure.

Example 2 – Personnel costs

There are bills under active consideration this year that would extend workers’ compensation benefits for local firefighters, investigators, and law enforcement personnel that will be costly for local governments, but not burden the state. Similarly, bills appear to be advancing that would expand city tort responsibilities in wrongful death cases that could be very costly and litigious. Again, if legislators are determined to enact some version of these, AWC continues to offer suggestions on how to lessen the fiscal hit on cities.

We may or may not be successful in convincing legislators that to make their “good ideas” work at the local level, the policies must be implementable and won’t disrupt ongoing local programs and services that they also value and help make cities strong. Add your voices now to remind legislators that their proposals can’t work if local resources aren’t available and ask them to join a small but growing number of their peers who recognize this and are beginning to stand up to say so.