Which pocket will pay? House may shuffle costs

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Capital News Service
LANSING- Michigan counties, cities, villages and townships are providing state- mandated services to residents without the aid of state funds.
Such unfunded mandates have cost local government at least $2.5 billion, according to the Legislative Commission. And that’s just what can be measured.
Counties pay their share of these mandates primarily through county property tax dollars and personal property tax.
Counties and local government are left with the financial burden, often with no say in the matter, said Benjamin Bodkin, director of legislative affairs at the Michigan Association of Counties. Unfunded mandates are in courts, health services, education, and law enforcement.
“The courts cost counties about a half billion dollars a year, that is after reimbursement,” Bodkin said. He said that counties would like to turn some of the cost back over to the state, “so that it can pay for its own state courts.”
“There is a disconnect there on appropriate relationships in government. It is a state court, it ought to be funded by the state system rather than county taxpayers,” Bodkin said.
Michigan’s counties are spending roughly $500 million on Michigan state courts each year, making this the largest unfunded mandate, according to the Michigan Association of Counties.
Currently Wayne and Macomb County courts are receiving the least fund assistance from the state. Wayne County is paying $198, 884, 850 to fund its courts, roughly 56 percent of the total costs of the courts. Macomb County contributes $32,045,214 to its courts, 51 percent of the total costs.
Legislators have proposed a series of bills in the House to ensure that unfunded mandates are not created in the future. The bills would install funding options when legislation is passed for the implementation of new programs.
“We are looking prospectively, but if there are existing mandates that can be eliminated, if they are not necessary or redundant, then we are looking to get rid of those,” said Rep. Eileen Kowall, R-White Lake, the primary sponsor of the bills.
Kowall said that she hopes to have the legislation of unfunded mandates resolved by the end of the year, but it is a tough situation. Legislators will determine if this will cost locals and are reviewing fiscal notes to determine who is impacted the most.
“They would make it easier for the legislature to follow the law, to follow the constitution, by explicitly requiring that a price tag be put on any new mandate,” Bodkin said. “It will help refine the process for challenging an unfunded mandate, to make it quicker. Speeding that process up will save everybody money, which is a good thing.”
Michigan courts are looking to save money by examining unnecessary costs. The number of judges that are employed in certain counties are not necessary, said Marcia McBrien, public information officer at the Michigan Supreme Court. McBrien would not classify county courts as an unfunded mandate because that is a legal conclusion.
Unfunded mandates in the court system are a burden not only on the counties and units of local government but taxpayers as well. Regardless, taxpayers will be affected the most.
“The taxpayers ultimately pay the price, either reduced services or increased taxes,” Kowall said.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.

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