Old Democrats are taught to realise that good rarely prevails without effort, even more rarely does talent win an election. The government is reflective on the tastes of the people and in a democracy that becomes a challenge during times of decline. The people choose fads, someone who they would like to have a drink in a bar with. The former President George Bush understood that, so although he was wasp Connecticut, they moved to Texas, took on a twang and everyone loved him, to the detriment of our political system. So when I read some of the comments on unfunded mandates in your newspaper recently, I was surprised and pleased to see the discourse rise to something higher than 'Gotcha' politics.
First, though, we should come to understand what unfunded mandates are and why they are bad. In an atmosphere where local leadership is not as strong as it can be, with the State Leadership merely filling in a vacuum of power, unfunded mandates are requirements placed on local government, through state law, convention or regulation that requires the local folks to do something.
These extra 'regulations' usually cost money to implement, the local government is burdened with a greater expense, which is typically covered through additional property tax revenues. This trickle down system of taxation can cause untold damage to the economic structure and making it more difficult for the average voter to make ends meet. Furthermore, it shifts an inappropriate burden onto private property; in short, you no longer own your land yourself free and clear, the government has an equitable stake in it as well. Where these arbitrary unfunded mandates are clearly against the law is in the State Constitution itself, which in 1965 sought to breakup administrative consolidation. Unfunded mandates are encroachments into the authority of Home Rule as it is enshrined in that document, this encroachment undermines the balance necessary for our culture, here in Connecticut, for our democracy to work. But as it is less a political issue than a cause for alarm, we should look to define what truly are unfunded mandates imposed upon us and understand that government is in nature a hierarchy, so some of the requirements imposed on us are also in our interests.
Originally, I believe, in an affront to our governing majorities and for just plain politics, these original "unfunded mandates" that we began to discuss in the early 90's, came from efforts of education 'activists' (pro and con) and homebuilders. A huge slate of laws were enacted in the late '80s that allowed the clear cutting of rural connecticut forests and the 'standarization' of Education norms in the state. When proposals to ban such mandates came before the General Assembly in the 90's and early years of the new century, they were defeated, in essence strengthening the State's power to pass all manners of illegal initiatives. For some reason, none of our legislative representation brought suit to enfore the highest law in the state, the Constitution. This tells me, the issue itself is a shrewd matter to gain your passions while endorsing politicians to do nothing in the end as the steady erosion of local power and leadership has continued.
But some of the more recent issues deserve introspection. First, the requirement of prevailing wage contractors. I believe that we should make a point of professionalising local government so that they choose public projects carefully. Infrastructure should last a while, and is always expensive. The roads built in Rome two thousand years ago are still passable, yet our institutional momentum creates a system where roads are repaired during re-election time. If we are to hire a construction firm to do the work for us, it sends the wrong signal to allow public monies to be spent with companies who do not pay their workers an adequate wage. That is why we should all be for the prevailing wage restrictions from State Statute.
Issues such as in-school suspension are silly. First off, if our children are suspended from school, it should be only for the most egregious behaviour, and in such cases they should not be allowed in school. Furthermore, local educators receive an annual budget for such ideas, but they are not given these budgets as a blank check. We want our teachers to teach our kids, not test our kids. Every misuse of education dollars empowers the enemies of education to fester; so don't be surprised when they advocate elimination of your budgets, live by the politics, die by the politics, we use to say.
We need to review all state mandates upon our local government, and we democrats and republicans should begin to work towards their elimination, if we are to be self sustaining in the future, but if we are not careful, the chaos that will result from inefficient local administrators without any measures imposed on them will pale in comparison to the problems we presently face.