Unformatted text preview: sed use of direct orders, many in the 1980s and often without funding, further raised the ire of state and local
officials. Examples here included the Americans with Disabilities Act, Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments, the Water
Quality Act, and the Brady Bill. Estimates of the financial impact of these unfunded mandates continued to rise. 3.1. Explicit Decentralization
Several presidents, with varying success, tried to respond to these concerns. President Reagan was somewhat
successful in reducing the number of rules and regulations relating to grants, although it proved to be a modest success.
President George Bush proposed a sweeping program of federal government program “turnbacks” in an attempt to rerationalize the federal grant system, but was unsuccessful. President Clinton’s administration increased the use of
“waivers” in programs like welfare to allow the states to experiment. But it was the election of a Republican majority to
Congress in 1994 that was to produce the two trophies of recent decentralization.
Republicans who ran for the House of Representatives in 1994 put together a list of policy goals called “the Contract
with America.” The first item on the list to be passed was 1995’s Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (UMRA), seemingly
responding to the vociferous objections of state and local officials. The law allowed any member of Congress to raise a
point of order on the floor to stop any proposed legislation that involved an uncompensated state or local cost greater
than $50 million a year.21
While the bill received a lot of publicity and seemed to stem the tide of uncompensated federal government intrusion, it
was not as significant as some thought. Most importantly it was made prospective, thereby removing none of the
onerous orders already in place. Further, a simple majority can override the point of order. There are exemptions,
including those regulations relating to discrimination, grant conditions, preemptions, or provision of services hot having
state or local fiscal implications. Paul Posner has found that the law’s enactment slowed the number of new mandates,
but still allowed Congress to enact intrusive grant conditions and preemptions in the years following. Posner has noted
that Congress in some instances merely reduced the estimate of the mandate’s cost to bring it under the $50 million
threshold, and in other cases has produced a consensus that the point of order should be overruled, such as under
Megan’s Law on the registration of sexual offenders.
22 28 See Bruce A. Wallin, From Revenue Sharing to Deficit Sharing: General Revenue Sharing and Cities (Washington, DC: Georgetown University
See National League of Cities vs. Usery (1976).
See Paul Posner, The Politics of Unfunded Mandates (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1998).
Ibid. Commission on Fiscal Imbalance The most noteworthy Congressional enactment involving decentralization has been welfare reform, or passage of the
Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996. While a long overdue reform...
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