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Friday, February 11, 2011

State’s Rights Almost Extinct

One hundred and fifty years ago, our country went to war with itself over state’s rights. And today, unless Governors and State Legislatures take a stand against an avarice federal government, state’s rights will be extinct. Issues that are as diverse as illegal immigration to fiscal responsibility to healthcare coverage, independent and sovereign states are losing their constitutional rights each and every day.

At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, defenders of states' rights were concerned that a powerful, consolidated national government would run roughshod over the states. With ratification of the Constitution in doubt, the Framers promised to add protection for the states. Accordingly, the Tenth Amendment was added to the Constitution as part of the Bill of Rights. The Tenth Amendment stipulates that "powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
Naturally many issues that faced our country throughout our history have hinged over the debate as to which level of government has ultimate power or authority. Today is no different. The US Government is suing Arizona for its illegal immigration laws while simultaneously bailing out state’s who have been fiscally irresponsible.
Where does it end? California’s citizens voted in Proposition 13 in 1978 hoping to reign in the burden of property taxes. But they did not vote in elected officials who were fiscally responsible. Thirty years later, one of the largest states in the US has a $19 billion budget deficit. California’s deficit is 21% larger than Georgia’s total budget.
The recent “bailout” (I know it is hard to keep up with them given that Congress is passing so many) provides $26 billion in stimulus / bailout funding for education and healthcare. California has a tremendous teacher’s union. Are the two connected? What is the incentive for a state government to manage its budget if the federal government is there to bail it out?
Most would argue that immigration is a federal issue. But what should a state do when they are over-burdened by the number of illegal immigrants because the federal government ignored their responsibility. Because state and local governments incur tremendous costs for education, transportation, criminal justice, and indigent healthcare, they should be able to pass legislation that enables them to fiscally manage the services it provides.
The flip –side should be that states should have to balance their budgets and not rely on stimulus / bailout funding from the federal government. The reason states like California support federal support and would freely give up some of their state’s rights is because they operate much like the federal government. Proposition 13 was passed by the citizens of California to reduce the tax burden on property owners. An unintended consequence is a severe restriction on revenue creation. You cannot have a balanced budget when revenues are restrained / capped while spending continues to increase.
After hearing from two Democratic Governors recently who are leading their states exceptionally, I feel that Governors and their respective state legislatures need to take a stand against a growing federal government. Congress and the President seem intent on the government being the only institution left standing after they are through. The march through state’s rights issues by the current federal leadership is nothing short of Sherman’s march through the south.
If we are to thrive again as a nation, the normal checks and balances at the federal level need to be bolstered by strong leadership at the state level. Governors and state legislators are still close enough to the voter that course-correction is possible. And I have to believe that the majority of Governors believe in fiscal responsibility (balanced budgets), minimizing the role of government, and being responsive to the needs of the voters. If states do not exercise their right to check the power of the federal government, we may never be the nation that the rest of the world looked up to and envied.

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