In an essay that is, unfortunately, behind a subscription firewall, Ramesh Ponnuru takes a mildly contrarian position on federalism:
Yet this may not be an auspicious time for a campaign to empower the states, since their own mismanagement has been in the headlines for several years. California and Illinois are the most familiar basket cases, but even Utah, the best-ranked state in Forbes’s survey of state-government debt, has unfunded pension obligations that amount to $7,000 per resident. At a time when states have been asking the federal government for bailouts, is it really a good idea to entrust them with more responsibilities? Will the public think so?
If political constraints end up blocking devolution, it might be a good thing, because the bigger problem with the conservative defense of the states is that it rests on mistaken premises. The decline of American federalism has not been a story of the federal government growing and state governments shrinking. It has been a story of governments at all levels growing at once, and collusively.
I say “mildly,” because to some extent the second paragraph answers the first, and Ponnuru surely knows it. Giving the states more responsibility and more autonomy will force them to behave more responsibly. The prerequisite, of course, is that the particular “autonomy” given is of the sink-or-swim kind, not of the adolescent bender kind. Ponnuru’s list of suggestions follows this line of thinking:
- Stop giving the states [federal] money.
- Cap the state- and local-tax deduction.
- Defend the Supreme Court when it limits states’ adventurism.
- Where federalism is in good working order, leave it alone.
- Stop creating new opportunities to sue state governments in federal court.
- Fix Medicaid.
- End McCarran-Fergusun [which enabled state-by-state regulation of health insurance.