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Boston — Good morning to Chairman Timilty, Chairwoman Benson and the members of the Committee. Thank you for this opportunity to address you today. My name is Ben Tafoya and I am the Director of the Division of Local Mandates testifying on behalf of State Auditor Suzanne Bump. I am here to offer comments in support of S. 1747 and H. 2679, bills on municipal impact statements. I would like to thank Senator O’Connor Ives and Representative Speliotis for sponsoring these bills and for their ardent support of our work.
As you know, the Division of Local Mandates was created through the voter referendum known as Prop 2 ½. The office has an important role, within the State Auditor’s Office, determining whether acts of the legislature or regulatory actions by the executive branch constitute unfunded mandates. This is a power that has been exercised hundreds of times since the effective date of the law in 1981. Our work is also guided by an examination of laws and by a series of court decisions regarding the extent and interpretation of existing law on state mandates.
The language in the bills is consistent with the 5-Year Statutory Review released by the Division of Local Mandates in 2016, which identified 97 enacted statutes that imposed a significant fiscal impact on cities and towns outside of the Local Mandate Law. This proposal is particularly pertinent now as you grapple with how to reduce burdens on municipalities, specifically related to education costs. Because the 1993 Education Reform Act is exempted from the Unfunded Mandate Law, municipalities are left with little recourse to resolve or seek funding for state required programs. S. 1747 and H. 2679 are a strong first step in resolving this dilemma because it would allow DLM to pre-emptively identify regulations that cause financial burdens on municipalities and work with the agency to reduce or eliminate those burdens. This is a simple, no-cost solution with the potential to greatly strengthen the partnership between our state agencies and our state’s municipalities.
We believe these bills offer a small but important change to current practice regarding municipal impacts statements. The bills require that state agencies provide to the Local Government Advisory Commission (LGAC), the Auditor’s Division of Local Mandates (DLM), and the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) a statement of the possible financial impacts on the cities and towns of the Commonwealth prior to adopting, changing, or deleting a regulation. Under Executive Order 145, state agencies are already required to provide impact statements to the LGAC and DHCD. Adding DLM to the list of entities receiving and responding to these statements will allow DLM to be more responsive with feedback on proposed regulatory changes and would help make those statements more readily available to municipal officials.
For example, we have recently published a mandate determination regarding the educator evaluation system. While we found this was not an unfunded mandate we did find an outstanding issue related to cost reimbursement of school departments not met by current formulas. This is the kind of issue that could have been raised had the system contemplated by the legislation been in place when the regulations were promulgated by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). These bills also facilitate cooperation between our office and the LGAC and DHCD on behalf of local government.
Thank you for your kind attention and please know our office stands ready to act as a resource on these and other matters related to the impact of state law and policy on our Commonwealth’s municipalities.