The federal government isn’t simply bleeding money. Because of its addiction to red ink, it’s bleeding power, which is starting to flow away from the nation’s capital and out to the states. This is the little-recognized reality behind the remarkable political upheaval being seen in state capitals.
Republican governors such as Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, New Jersey’s Chris Christie and Indiana’s Mitch Daniels are pursuing their own controversial fiscal policies out of what they consider financial necessity; they have budgets to balance, and little time and few options to do the job. But governors of both parties also have less reason to wait and hope for help from a federal government that, with overwhelming budget deficits, is losing its ability to offer financial goodies to the states.
For decades, the implicit deal between Washington and state capitals has been that the feds would offer chunks of cash, and in return would get commensurate influence over the states’ social policies. Now that flow of federal goodies has begun what figures to be a long-term decline, as the money Washington has available to pass around to the states is squeezed. Already the funds the federal government offered states as part of the 2009 economic stimulus package have nearly run out, and the budget-cutting that has begun in Washington is curtailing the other money available to dole out.