The Federal Strings That Bind

In my December column for the Rhode Island Catholic, I included federal spending among the mechanisms whereby we’re losing local — and therefore overall — control of the shape of our government. Neil Downing points out just such a deal with the Devil with respect to unemployment insurance:

Rhode Island has a chance to obtain a cash infusion of up to $23.5 million from the federal government to boost the unemployment trust fund, which pays benefits to out-of-work Rhode Islanders.
But to receive the money, Rhode Island first must liberalize the rules for the unemployment program, including changes that would make more people eligible for benefits.

It certainly makes for a difficult political proposition to refuse millions of dollars that could be siphoned directly to constituents, but consider:

The federal cash infusion is intended to cover the cost of changes to a state’s unemployment insurance system, at least in the early years, Vroman said. Employers eventually would have to pick up the cost of broadening a state’s unemployment program — through higher state unemployment taxes, he said.

The money, that is, comes as start-up costs for a program that is meant to be permanent. Just as I’ve pledged to myself that I will never again live beyond my means (if I’m fortunate enough to dig out of debt before I die), state governments should resolve not to fritter away their sovereignty in the name of immediate handouts.

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