A nonpartisan advisory commission has urged the federal government to stop imposing sweeping new regulations on state and local authorities unless it is willing to pay the full cost of putting them into effect.
The Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, in a 261-page study of the impact of federal policies, said that local officials should be allowed to ignore new federal rules whenever Washington won't agree to pay for them.
The commission--which includes six members of Congress, two Cabinet officers, three governors, four mayors, three county officials, two state legislators and three private citizens--has received little attention over the past two decades while poking into corners of governmental policy. But the Reagan administration's effort to cut the cost of federal regulation and sort out responsibilities among different levels of government has given the commission new prominence.
One of the its members, Sen. David F. Durenberger (R-Minn.), said in an interview that with soaring federal deficits it is not realistic to expect Congress to take on the expenses it now passes on to mayors and governors.
"I agree with the principle that we should pay for all the mandates, but it's budgetarily impossible," said Durenberger, who dissented from that recommendation. "If they the commission members are to be helpful to us, they might have spent a little more time figuring out how we would pay for all these mandates.
"Of course, a lot of the commission members are state and local types who believe this is a terrific idea."
The commission stopped short of urging that local governments be reimbursed for the cost of existing federal regulations. And the panel acknowledged that figuring out how much Uncle Sam should pay for future rules would be "an awesome auditing and accounting task."
The study describes a dramatic increase in federal regulation of state and local authorities over the past two decades. This "new social regulation" of the 1960s and 1970s, which was concentrated in such areas as civil rights, consumer protection, health and safety and the environment, has created considerable confusion as local officials have tried to sort through conflicting interpretations of program requirements.
The commission said that long delays and paperwork caused by federal red tape are as important as the financial burden on states and cities, and contribute to "a sharp reduction in state autonomy."
"The overall record of achievement for intergovernmental regulation has been disappointing" largely because "such programs are even more prone to conflict and breakdown . . . ," the report said.
Among the most burdensome and intrusive federal laws, the commission said, are the Age Discrimination Act, the Davis-Bacon wage laws, the National Health Planning Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, the Highway Beautification Act and the federally mandated 55-mph speed limit.
The report cautiously praised the Vice President's Task Force on Regulatory Relief and the administration's efforts to subject new rules to rigorous cost-benefit analysis. In particular, the panel said that the administration has helped to simplify or eliminate rules on bilingual education, handicapped access to transit systems, food stamp eligibility, work-place inspections and mine safety enforcement--all of which have been controversial and denounced by those who were subject to the rules.
The report noted, however, that the White House has accomplished most of this by administrative changes, not congressional action, and that it could be undone by future presidents.
Many regulatory goals are unrealistic, the commission suggested, and Congress often fails to follow through on promises for full funding. The commission estimated that it would cost the nation $120 billion a year to comply with federal water-quality standards, but it noted that Congress recently cut from $4.5 billion to $2.5 billion grants to states and cities to help them meet those standards.
The report objected to four kinds of federal mandates: direct orders that are usually backed by civil or criminal penalties; crosscutting requirements, such as civil-rights rules, that apply to many or all federal aid programs; crossover sanctions that threaten to cut off grants under one program because of violations under an unrelated program, and partial preemption that allows the states to handle enforcement as long as they adopt national standards.
The commission reserved its strongest language for federal threats, by whatever name, to cut off grant money to local governments. "Where the federal government once encouraged state and local actions with fiscal incentives," the report said, "it now also wields sanctions or simply issues commands."
At the same time, the panel conceded that federal officials rarely carry out these threats because of the political pressure to get along with their local counterparts.
Since Jan. 1, for example, more than 100 cities and counties have been in violation of the Clean Air Act, but the Environmental Protection Agency, despite its threats, has yet to withhold a dime from any jurisdiction.