(from Maine Townsman, March 1999)

Thirty municipal officials from Maine participated in individual meetings with members of Maine’s congressional delegation March 8-9 in Washington DC in conjunction with the National League of Cities Congressional City Conference.

The 1999 Federal Issues Paper prepared by the Maine Municipal Association provided a framework for discussion. One of the main topics of discussion was special education. Although the federal government has pledged to cover 40% of the per pupil costs for special education, in actuality funding has consistently been drastically below this level – 7% in FY 97. MMA staff and the municipal officials in attendance stressed the importance of fully funding existing mandates, particularly before Congress and the Administration enact new education-related initiatives. Members of the Maine congressional delegation acknowledged these concerns and expressed support for honoring the commitment to fund special education at the 40% level.

The Issues Paper called for honoring commitments and rebuilding intergovernmental partnerships. Recognizing the commitment of members of Maine’s congressional delegation to uphold Maine’s strong tradition of local self-government, the following guideposts were offered for consideration:

• Before establishing new programs and requirements, ensure that current programs and commitments are fully funded;

• As legislation is considered, ask what, if any, role is appropriate for the federal government. Is the issue more appropriately handled at the state or local level? Often the most important contribution from the federal government would be financial assistance that can be utilized efficiently, without cumbersome federal requirements.

• Allow for flexibility - the proverbial "one size fits all" difficulty of tailoring legislation to apply to wide ranging needs and situations.

• Respect state and local government authority and processes. State legislatures and local elected officials are very close to their citizens and have a solid record of establishing effective programs and processes. In recent years, the federal government has increasingly intruded upon, and in some significant instances, preempted state and local authority.

• Don’t shift costs and responsibilities.

Other topics discussed included transportation funding, interstate weight limits, Internet tax and tax policy, combined sewer overflows, Year 2000 and municipal liability, reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration, takings, and group homes.

The 1999 Federal Issues Paper is on MMA's web site www.memun.org. For a hard copy, contact Theresa Chavarie (800-452- 8786; 623-8428). For more information on the meetings with Maine’s congressional delegation, contact Chris Lockwood.