Though Idaho legislators long have complained about how much the federal government tells the state what to do, they often turn a deaf ear to similar complaints from their own local governments.
“I find some irony in it,” said Boise State University political scientist Jim Weatherby.
Congress passed a bill in 1994 written by Idaho Sen. Dirk Kempthorne banning “unfunded mandates,” or requirements placed on states without the funding to accomplish them. But the Legislature has refused for the past two years to pass a similar bill at the state-local level.
House Speaker Mike Simpson, R-Blackfoot, introduced a new version of the bill Wednesday. It would forbid the state from passing laws that have more than a $25,000 impact on a local unit of government without either attaching funding, or giving local governments a way to raise the necessary money.
“It would make us look at bills we pass that have an impact on local units of government, the same as they did with states,” Simpson said.
Missing from the bill is a way of determining how much impact a law will have. Versions in past years set up an intergovernmental relations committee to make those judgments.
But the committee provision drew objections that the bill was creating too much bureaucracy, Simpson said.
“Somehow, we’ve got to make those determinations,” he said.
Because the bill was brought after the deadline for most bill introductions, Simpson brought it to the House Ways and Means Committee, a leadership committee that quickly agreed to introduce it. The bill will move to the House Local Government Committee for a possible hearing.
Weatherby said he hopes the third time is the charm, “Not only for its substantive impact, but I think also for its symbolic impact on improving relations between state and local governments.”
State legislators often tend to view local governments “as just another collection of special interest groups,” Weatherby said.
“The state Legislature’s dealings with the federal government and the local governments illustrate the workings of what we political scientists call Miles’ Law: Where you sit determines where you stand.”
Virtually everything Idaho counties do is mandated by the state, Weatherby said. Cities and other local governments also have substantial marching orders from the state.
A study in the early 1980s ranked Idaho dead last for the amount of discretion it gives local authorities, Weatherby said. There have been some small changes since then, including allowing local governments to charge impact fees, but he said Idaho still gives local government few options.
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