A former boss of mine used to have a matter-of-fact saying about one’s employment: “If you don’t like the working conditions, don’t take the check.”
Some states have rediscovered the wisdom of that axiom regarding their relationships with Washington. Their willingness to refuse Washington’s checks has prompted the latest round of media pearl-clutching.
But states are only acting in ways they should have been long ago. Conservatives have finally come to realize that the federal government’s dollars come with powerful strings attached. Questioning the use of federal dollars will serve to reduce the influence of Washington — and the permanent administrative state residing in the nation’s capital — in the affairs of these states and the lives of their citizens.
Tennessee Says ‘Thanks, but No Thanks’
A recent AP story analyzed the Volunteer State’s willingness to reject federal funding for HIV prevention and family planning. Tennessee rejected the funds because they would likely go to organizations like Planned Parenthood that provide or refer for abortion. State lawmakers have also discussed foregoing federal education dollars due to Washington’s policies on parental rights and related issues.
The Republican speaker of the state house, Cameron Sexton, explained the thinking. “We should do everything that we can to be whole and autonomous and independent from the federal government,” he said. “When you take federal government money, their philosophies and what they want you to do is different than probably what the state wants to do.”
It amounts to Washington’s version of the Golden Rule: “He who has the gold makes the rules.”
If red-state lawmakers like Sexton don’t enjoy being bossed around by federal bureaucrats that don’t share the same priorities, philosophy, or agenda — and they shouldn’t — then they shouldn’t even consider taking federal money that will come with strings attached.
Leftist Shock and Horror
Declining federal funds represents an unthinkable — and unforgivable — sin in the minds of many leftists. The AP story quotes state Sen. Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis. “I think this trend in declining federal funds really is alarming,” she said. “A big portion of our government and our budget … rely on federal funds.”
Turning down federal funds would only appear “alarming” to someone who wants a large role for government or a state government that follows all of Washington’s commands. That’s exactly what Akbari wants: “We shouldn’t accept federal dollars because we don’t agree with certain policies? That’s taking things a little too far. It’s not fiscally responsible.”
Is Washington ‘Fiscally Responsible’?
For all the lectures from Democrats about fiscal responsibility, it seems ironic that this Democratic lawmaker wants to link Tennessee’s state budget to a federal government that holds $33 trillion in debt and just ran what effectively amounts to a $2 trillion budget deficit over the past year.
To a small-government conservative, reducing a state’s reliance on federal funds represents a feature, not a bug. It will definitely make the state more fiscally independent and less linked to the whims of the federal budget. It may even make state government smaller and more efficient overall — a true win-win proposition.
But unsurprisingly, the AP story adopts a skeptical tone, quoting professor Thomas Kahn: “You’re seeing a much more conservative trend in this country where there’s more hostility toward the federal funding on anything it [i.e., Washington] proposes. It’s a trend that’s getting worse.”
The last word of the quote gives the bias away. The trend can only be “getting worse” if one believes that states should seek every federal dollar they can get. It provides no small amount of personal embarrassment that such a view, which effectively makes states subservient to Washington’s whims, came from a professor at my alma mater, The American University.
A Victory for Federalism
If the battles in recent years over the woke agenda and abortion have had one salutary effect, it may lie in the way state lawmakers have begun to understand the threat that Washington’s administrative state poses to their own values and beliefs. With the bureaucracy permanently entrenched regardless of the president’s political affiliations, conservative states have come to realize how they need to take their futures back into their own hands.
States never should have let things get to the point where their dependence on the federal government for funding jeopardizes the state’s political belief structure. But by demonstrating what’s at stake, the past few years will hopefully accelerate states’ welcome weaning away from Washington’s welfare.