Brown targets state-funded mandates

January 17, 2011

Gov. Jerry Brown

Talk about Gov. Jerry Brown’s plans to repair the budget through realignment has focused on his proposed elimination of redevelopment agencies, a prospect that has local governments like Atascadero worried that the scrapping of its redevelopment agency could stymie plans for economic development. [CaliforniaWatch]

However, Brown’s proposal also calls for fundamental changes in the mandate system, in which local governments apply for reimbursements for enacting specialized services that are ordered by state lawmakers.

Brown’s budget calls for suspending most mandates not related to public safety or property taxes for at least one year and a review of existing mandates by the Legislature in preparation for next year’s budget.

California imposes dozens of mandates on local governments and school districts, from requiring efforts to encourage animal adoption to mandating certain types of disclosures about public meetings, according to CaliforniaWatch. State reimbursements, which are paid to local governments for executing the programs, cost hundreds of millions of dollars each year, making them a popular target for cost-cutting in down budget years.

Critics argue that the mandate system is more expensive then originally intended, is frequently misused and can create financial incentives that are counter productive to the mandate’s intent.

For example, according to a 2008 report by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, a state mandate designed to encourage animal adoptions actually created incentives for animal shelters to euthanize more pets, running completely counter to the purpose of the mandate.

“Specifically, under the mandate’s reimbursement methodology, shelters do not get more state funds if more households adopt animals,” the report reads. “Rather, shelters that euthanize the most animals receive the most state funds. Shelters that are the most successful in promoting adoptions receive the least state funds.”

This year, Brown’s budget plan calls for suspending many of the mandates that are not related to public safety or property taxes – a maneuver also used in past administrations. Brown’s estimates suggest suspending the mandates could save the state upwards of a quarter-billion dollars, according to CaliforniaWatch.

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Instead of adding insult to injury by hamstringing redevelopment during a recession, what I think Gov. Brown’s state attorney general should nail to the wall are the mortgage lenders who didn’t make good on their agreements with their mortgage modification applications.

After stringing the applicant along while they fall further behind due to job loss, catastrophic illness, underemployment, death, or what have you, it becomes too late and they lose their homes. As equity plummets in these regions, I believe everyone will be reaping the detrimental effects of this that will make the redevelopment issue look closer to an afterthought.