States prepare to combat stimulus strings

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Mr. Brogdon said prospects for passage of his resolution are “grand,” noting that a similar bill passed the Oklahoma House by a 97-3 vote last year and that Republicans captured a majority of the Oklahoma Senate in the 2008 elections. He predicted that the Legislature would easily override a veto from Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat.

Mr. Obama proposed a slew of expensive programs during his presidential campaign, ranging from health insurance to policies addressing alternative energy and climate change. “The states are worried that these programs would increase the overall regulatory burden without providing the funding,” Mr. Alt said.

Some analysts dispute the financial impact of recent unfunded mandates on state budgets.

Tad DeHaven, a budget analyst at the Cato Institute who recently completed a two-year stint in Indiana’s budget office, said he hasn’t “heard states clamoring about unfunded mandates the way they were during the 1990s. What you hear more today are states begging for federal money.”

The reality is that states are being “hypocritical,” he said, noting that about a third of average total state spending comes from the federal government.

The biggest federal grants involve Medicaid, the federal-state program that provides health care for the poor.

“States were adding Medicaid benefits when times were good. Now the federal government must bail the states out through the so-called stimulus bill because the states’ revenues have taken a hit and they must operate under a balanced-budget mandate,” Mr. DeHaven said.

In 2007, according to the Congressional Budget Office, states collectively spent $1 billion for unfunded federal mandates from programs enacted since the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995, said Brian Riedl, a budget analyst at the Heritage Foundation.

“To a large degree, states are scapegoating their budget problems on Washington,” Mr. Riedl said. “It’s tough to be sympathetic for states and local governments when they got $467 billion in federal grants last year,” he said.

Mr. Riedl also rejected the notion that the No Child Left Behind Act constitutes an unfunded mandate. States are free to opt out of this and many other federal programs by not accepting federal money in exchange for federal regulations. States have effectively decided that the federal dollars are worth the strings attached to them, Mr. Riedl concluded.

Mr. Riedl acknowledged that Medicaid, which was created in 1965, does represent a major unfunded mandate. But he said that “a majority of state Medicaid spending is on populations and benefits that states have voluntarily added and could reduce at any time.”

The other major unfunded federal mandate that predates the 1995 law is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). However, federal funding for IDEA has grown 71 percent faster than inflation since 2001, Mr. Riedl said.

Many of the sovereignty resolutions under consideration in the states will not have the force of law. Even if they did, said Mr. Alt, “through the supremacy clause in the U.S. Constitution, so long as a federal statute is constitutional, it would trump state law.”

Mr. Brogdon of Oklahoma did not take issue with that. “Federal law does not trump the Constitution,” he said.

He suggested that if he becomes governor, the federal courts likely will get a case involving the 10th Amendment and congressional powers.

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