Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Next Big Reform

The Right Word
By Kelly Sloan
If you were in the mood to catch some political fireworks in Denver this past legislative session (that did not involve redistricting maps), you could not have done much better than to follow SB 200 — the bill regarding the institution of health care exchanges in the state, in response to federal mandates in the “Obamacare” bill.

The principal argument for the bill was that if we as a state failed to implement our own government-run exchange, then the feds would do it for us; we would be better off, therefore, to set up our own than to accept whatever bureaucratic nightmare Washington, D.C., might see fit to impose on us on our behalf.

There is merit to that argument; but it leaves one asking, “When, exactly, did we start letting the federal government determine how the states run their affairs?”

Well, a while ago now, unfortunately. But the question helps keep alive the issue of what the role of the federal government is in relation to the states'.

The concept of federalism, or states' rights, has made a bit of a comeback in recent years, as generally seems to happen when a particularly egregious incursion of the federal government into the state's backyard occurs.

A few strides back in the right direction have been made over the years, and a few are currently proposed, that slightly counter the tsunami of federal encroachment. The welfare reform of the 1990s, for instance;

Previous to the reform, citizen ‘A' of a given state would pay X amount of money to the federal government, so that the federal government could “help” A's poorer fellow citizen (B) by simply giving him A's money. The reform measure changed the equation by having the federal government give A's money back to his state, for them to help B in whatever manner they felt was best. This adheres to the idea that what is right for Texas is not necessarily best for New Jersey, and vise versa.

A similar reform is offered by Rep. Paul Ryan to help contain the financial black hole that is Medicaid. He suggests returning the money to the states, from whose citizens it was first exacted, and let them administer the program in a way that works best for each state.

Both are good policy, as far as they go. But the next question perks up, why the fiscal round trip? Why not just let the states keep the money in the first place? William F. Buckley, in posing this question following the ratification of welfare reform in the '90s suggested that this was “perhaps a reform for tomorrow.”

So here we are at tomorrow, and time, I think, for this next major reform, one that could go a long way toward solving many of our current problems.

By instituting a mechanism to allow more tax dollars to stay in the states from which they are collected, without making an obligatory stop in Washington, D.C., before being handed back, we could place an effective check on the exponential increase in the size of the federal government. This would limit the reach of its many tentacles by returning to the states the authority (and money) to take care of the things that are traditionally their concern in the first place.

When the federal government is relieved of its self-imposed responsibility to take care of the state's business for them, much strain will be taken off the federal budget. This will help redirect the money that the government does collect towards the things it should be doing — such as preventing an American city from being converted into a glowing, radioactive memory.

The states will benefit; as it currently stands, with the federal government taking up so much of the tax pie, the states are left with, essentially, the crumbs — and therefore forced to rely on federal dollars to help them pay for things that are constitutionally their own responsibility.

By keeping more of their citizens money closer to home, matters such as health care, education, welfare and environmental policy can be left in more local hands, open to regionally appropriate solutions, rather than trying to make one policy fit 50 diverse states.

There will be some issues to work out — how to deal with states that take in more federal money than they send for instance — but this is precisely the separation of powers spelled out in the U.S. constitution. If we can return to this, we would have no need for an SB 200.

This column first appeared in the Grand Junction Free Press on May 20, 2011. Reprinted with permission

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