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State vs. Federal Government Authority in the USA

States authority vs. Federal authority has been an area of waxing and waning conflict since the authoring of our Constitution. In 1798, Jefferson and Madison wrote: “whensoever the general government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force.” In other words, the view of these founding fathers was that the Federal Government should have only those authorities granted to them explicitly by all of the states, and any action taken by the Federal Government that violated the laws of individual states was illegal. Of course, that didn’t last long. The Federal Government certainly asserted itself when the southern states decided to withdraw from the union, sparking the conflict that became the US Civil War.

The tragic thing about the current situation, it seems to me, is that since around the beginning of the 20th century, the Federal Government has been accumulating far too much power, and accumulating it far too quickly. When the Federal income tax was implemented as a permanent burden on all citizens by the 16th Amendment back in 1913, the role of state government in determining the course of our nation began to shrink. Since that time, a simple equation has been proven over and over and over again; MONEY EQUALS POWER. A citizen earning $100,000 living in California pays a maximum sate income tax of 9.3%, while paying 28% in Federal income taxes. Similarly, a person with the same income living in Michigan pays 4.3% in state taxes but 28% in Federal taxes. In Texas, that citizen would pay 0% in state income taxes but 28% in Federal taxes.

What happens in this situation?

  1. The Federal Government spends more money than it needs to. “Spend it or lose it” becomes the mantra as the Government approaches fiscal year end each year. Government employees and officials scramble to ensure that their budget is committed (“obligated”) such that it cannot be turned back in as surplus at the end of the fiscal year, supporting the inaccurate perception that every agency needs at least as much money, and preferably even more money, for the following year.
  2. The Federal Government spends money on things that the citizenry would not support if they were allowed to vote on individual expenditures rather than having elected officials voting on a budget based on how much “pork” it contains for their respective districts or states. (Individual states would be very unlikely to spend the millions currently spent on many of the studies, programs, and sheer bureaucracies currently supported in our Federal budget.) The ability of the Federal government to do this arose from the adoption of the 17th Amendment, which deprived state governments from exerting control over the Federal Government through the representation of each state’s legislature in the U.S. Senate. (Consider Federal farm subsidies, for example.)
  3. The Federal Government extorts desired behaviors from individual states by threatening to withhold Federal funds (especially highway funds) from those states if they do not comply with the desires of the Federal Government. This occurred around the implementation of the 55 mph speed limit during the Nixon era, and another similar set of actions surrounded the implementation of the federally mandated 21 year-old drinking age. Thomas Jefferson once said: “To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.” He would not be pleased with what the Federal Government is doing today.
  4. The Federal Government uses its funds to openly bribe state representatives to vote in favor of Administration proposals that would otherwise not make it into law. Recent examples include the “Louisiana Purchase” and “Cornhusker Kickback” payoffs made to assure the passage of Obamacare into law.

Unfortunately, the Federal Government continues to levy more taxes, spend more money, and even beyond that, borrows money to spend, resulting in multi-trillion dollar Federal debt that will fall on the shoulders of our children and grandchildren. Our Federal debt level as of this writing is $14,358,442,243,737.99, or $46,200 per American citizen. ( So if you are part of a family of 4, your family is currently indebted for $185,000 over and above your current tax burden. And at this point, there is no end in sight. Perhaps returning some of the Federal Government’s “out-of-control control” to the individual states is a good idea.

What do you think?

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