Under state law, if the legislature or a state agency require a local government to take on a new responsibility, the legislature is generally required to provide funding for the municipality to implement the new requirement. If the state does not provide local governments proper funding to meet the requirements of the new law or regulation, it may be considered an unfunded mandate.
The Office of the State Auditor (OSA) responds to requests from local government entities to determine if a proposed or existing state law or regulation constitutes an unfunded mandate, and if so, provides an analysis of the cost impacts of the law or regulation on cities, towns, regional school districts, or educational collaboratives.
The Local Mandate Law
The Local Mandate Law was enacted as part of the property tax limit initiative known as Proposition 2 1/2. The Local Mandate Law says that any state law or regulation passed or implemented after January 1, 1981 that imposes any direct service or cost obligation on a city or town is only effective when the community votes to accept the law or regulation, or the Commonwealth provides funding for the community to comply with the law/regulation.
Under this law, cities and towns can ask the Office of the State Auditor to determine if a state law or regulation constitutes an unfunded mandate, and to provide an analysis of the financial impact of such a mandate.
The Local Mandate Law also allows any community facing the unfunded state mandate to request an exemption from compliance in superior court.
Exemptions to the Local Mandate Law
While the Local Mandate Law is intended to protect cities, towns, regional school districts, and educational collaboratives from costs associated with implementing a law or regulation, there are some exemptions. These exemptions include:
- When the mandate imposes only incidental administration expenses on cities and towns;
- When there is a stipulation that requires municipal compliance with the mandate as a condition of state aid;
- When the mandate imposes indirect, rather than direct costs on a municipality. An example of an indirect cost is when a state regulation results in new costs on a business that are indirectly passed on to customers, including municipalities;
- When the new mandate is the result of a court decision;
- When the new mandate or amendment allows a local community to choose whether or not to comply with its requirements;
- When the Legislature overrides the Local Mandate Law;
- When the new mandate is a requirement that comes from the federal government, such as EPA regulations related to safe drinking water standards; and
- When the new mandate regulates the compensation, hours, status, conditions or benefits of municipal employment. (Article 115 of the State Constitution governs this area of state law. However, no funding is required for such laws passed by a 2/3s vote of both the House and Senate.)
Requesting a mandate determination
Requests that the OSA review a law or regulation to determine if it is an unfunded mandate can be made by:
- Any legislative committee or either branch of the General Court
- The chief executive office of a city or town (mayor, manager, etc.)
- The board of selectmen, board of alderman, town council, or city council
- The superintendent or school committee of a city, town or regional school district, or the executive director of an educational collaborative
Next steps after the OSA determines an unfunded mandate exists
If the OSA determines that a state law or regulation is an unfunded mandate, the group of individual that requested the determination has several options to address the mandate:
- Ask a State Representative or Senator to seek state funding for communities to implement the requirements of the law or regulation, or to make compliance with requirement optional for local governments.
- Seek a court order exempting the local government from complying with the law until adequate funding is provided by the state government, using the mandate determination as evidence in the case.
- Work with ten taxpaying residents of a city or town to file a class action lawsuit seeking an exemption from complying with the law or regulation until adequate funding is provided by the state government.
The unfunded mandate determination from the OSA does not in itself exempt a local government entity from complying with the law or regulation. It also does not ensure funding to allow local government entities to comply with the law.