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Jewish World Review April 24, 2001 / 2 Iyar, 5761

Donald W. Bedell

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Consumer Reports

Restoring federalism -- Because the federal government has been usurping the prerogatives of state governments, the public interest has been endangered, but fortunately President Bush is taking steps to restore the nation's governance to the balance spelled out in the Constitution.

The federal government has justified its past intrusion on the ground that state governments have been too slow or unwilling to act in ways the Washington establishment sees as benefiting state citizens. During the Clinton years, no one in the White House seemed to worry that a mere concurrence of the executive and legislative branches in Washington is insufficient reason to ignore the law of the land.

Should the American people care? Yes. Constitutional government is important because otherwise we have a government of whim. The Constitution clearly enumerates the federal government's powers, leaving the rest to the states. As the U.S. Supreme Court said in a 1992 ruling, "state governments are separate and should not be treated as mere subdivisions or agents of the federal government."

What is more - and what is egregious - there is no credible evidence that federal intrusion has improved quality of life in the states. For example, public school operations are the largest single item in each state's budget. Over the past eight years, the federal government has increasingly intruded in the public school system, and with disastrous results. Many billions have been wasted because of interfering and counterproductive programs that should be left to state initiative.

The National Governors Association has for several years published its complaints and recommendations for change, receiving no detailed response from the White House. Congress has responded by insisting on "block grants" on individual federally funded programs, which is a positive, though minimal step.

The governors' position is summed up in an eight-page document of principles published in 1999. The objective is to restore federalism to the nation as envisioned by the founding fathers. The governors recommend such simple principles as these: The constitutional authority of programs should be demonstrated with legal evidence; the federal government should not preempt state action except when the national interest is at risk, and the federal government should undertake cost-benefit analyses and avoid inflexible earmarking.

"The governors are committed to a revitalized and strong partnership with Congress and the administration to bring a new balance to federalism," the governors said in a statement. "We believe these issues are crucial to the future viability of our separate governments and to a revival of citizen participation in the affairs of government."

The Bush White House has rolled back some regulatory intrusions and committed itself to bringing back an effective federalism. It says it wants to place more operational decision-making for federally funded programs with local and state governments. To get this program underway, the president has brought on his team a woman who worked with him when he was governor of Texas and who has an exceptional management record, Margaret LaMontagne. She will face the daunting challenge, among other things, of making sure regulations pass the new "federalism" test.

The president's federalism policy is a major landmark decision with the promise of a continuing and vigorous reorientation of the federal-state relationship. It will very likely save American taxpayers many billions of dollars.

Donald W. Bedell was a senior executive at Monsanto chemical fiber division and has authored a variety of management and education studies. Comment by clicking here.


© 2001, SHNS