People don’t generally think about the governmental framework in which they live. It’s assumed like oxygen. But change that framework drastically enough, and things learned and forgotten from history textbooks develop a live pulse.
Federalism, as a point of common discussion, is relegated to Constitutional Law, economics and political science journals. It’s the stuff policy people and academics pour over. But not lately, as Randal Barnett writes at the Wall Street Journal, tea parties and sovereignty amendments speak to a growing awareness of profound structural change in the relationship between the federal government and the states. The ceding of local and state control to the federal level is not a new story. The debate over this changing relationship dates to the 19th century, but given the size and kinds of spending in the last several years, rounded out by the stimulus and budget of recent weeks, and a threshold is perceived.
For three different policy takes: an interesting solution offered by Greg Mankiw back in October, would have given the governors more discretion in accepting funds – they could elect to pass it on to citizens, rather than expand programs. The Brookings Institute suggests following Germany, a federalist system, in applying transportation funds. Chris Edwards of CATO has done work on how federal aid erodes state budget autonomy.