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Unformatted text preview: determining how much is due to state
innovations, and how much is due to the expanding economy. Only now, when the economy slows, may the answer
become clearer. The other difficulty is knowing just exactly what has happened to those who have left the welfare rolls.
There is broad skepticism that all or even most have actually found gainful employment. What has happened to the
The main point that needs to be re-emphasized regarding these two trophies of devolution, relief from unfunded
mandates and welfare reform, is that neither of these two legislative enactments offers unequivocal evidence of a true
devolution of federal government power. The Unfunded Mandates Relief Act is prospective, thus leaving in place many
huge fiscal burdens for state and local governments, and further contains enough loopholes to suggest that it may be
more symbolic than significant. Welfare reform involves a major shift in programmatic direction, but may have been
driven by deficit reduction concerns as much as by any sentiment that state governments know best how to run the
program, a view supported by the fact that it has so many rules that it hardly qualifies as pure return of decision-making
to the state level.
It is also important to note that several other devolutionary initiatives that were considered by the national government in
the second half of the decade never did gain passage, including proposed block grants for Medicaid and public housing.
A major regulatory reform measure relating to the federal government’s ability to issue rules on health, safety, and the
environment also failed to win approval. Meanwhile Congress, according to Walker, “enacted a maze of mandates and
preemptions,” some conservative, some liberal. 23
25 See Walker, op. cit.
Ibid., p. 165.
Ibid., p. 166. 29 Commission on Fiscal Imbalance Perhaps most telling has been the movement of federal government influence into the two program areas most
traditionally left in the state and local sphere, law enforcement and education. President Clinton and Congress agreed
on funding to local governments for additional police officers, and imposed many restrictions on its receipt. President
George W. Bush and the Congress are now considered likely to pass increased aid to states for elementary and
secondary education, with rules that might include nationwide testing of students, and with repercussions for poor
Meanwhile, state governments have seen their revenue raising ability greatly constrained by a national government
moratorium on state taxation of internet commerce. The great majority of governors have requested that Washington lift
this ban, allowing them to tap the potential of this integral element of the “new economy,” and in particular to recapture
sales tax revenues lost due to the shift from brick and mortar businesses to those conducted in cyberspace.
In sum, there has been a renewed emphasis placed on decentralization in the United States. But the reality of federal
government devolutionary action has not ma...
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