Nullification: Are State Level Officials Really Opposed to Federal Encroachment?

This is Part 4 in an ongoing series about a the concept of nullification by states; the idea that individual states can declare a federal law or regulation unconstitutional and, therefore, refuse to implement it. See FOOTNOTE section for links to Parts 1 -3 and additional supporting information. 1 My prior opinion, that nullification is a good idea, was based on a number of ideas that simply aren’t true. Some of the myths…(two others will be discussed in Part 5)
  • The states are sitting ducks, and therefore defenseless against an onslaught of laws and regulations coming from the elected officials and bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.
  • Our problem is not in Nebraska, it’s in Washington, D.C.
  • State level officials and bureaucrats are opposed to the imposition of federal programs on state and local governments.
Realities… Federal government has definitely reached beyond its Article I, Section 8 powers too frequently; there are plenty of examples of legislation passed by Congress, and administrative laws issued by bureaucrats that are onerous to States and individuals. There have been too many unfunded mandates coming out of Washington, D.C. BUT… The amount of federal government expansion loudly and consistently objected to by the states and the actual number of “unfunded mandates” have been greatly exaggerated.

*States have largely given away state sovereignty.*

Why? It’s very simple… Politicians and bureaucrats want federal dollars. Why? Again, very simple…
  • Politicians benefit politically, bureaucrats justify their existence
Unfortunately, it has become the standard practice of elected officials to cite lists of numbers, including funds disbursed, to detail how much they’ve done while in office2. Spending is considered proactive and positive leadership. In laying out an agenda for the year in a State of the Union or State of the State address, Presidents and Governors propose spending hundreds of billions (on the federal level) or millions (on the state level) as display of their ability to plan the coming year. This year’s State of the State address by Nebraska’s governor, Dave Heineman, was no exception. Although Nebraska’s biennial budget is projected to run nearly $1 billion short, the Governor’s address includes a long list of spending proposals. Because government is so large at every level, bureaucracy is out of control. With the base-line budgeting3 and use-it-or-lose-it mentality4 dominating government there is little motivation to cut, more motivation to spend.
  • Makes budget “balancing” easier, puts off difficult decisions about making cuts
States have been taking in federal funds at a rate that is as alarming as the rate of growth in government, spending, and the deficit. In fact, it’s difficult to avoid the question: Is there a potential correlation between the exploding deficit and the increasing rate at which States have been taking in federal dollars? The two charts embedded below illustrate this starkly. 5. Recent events show us how federal funds simply delay the inevitable; spending at all levels of government (of course there are exceptions) is at best, in need of serious scrutiny, and at worst, totally out of control. The February 2009 Stimulus bill did more than delay the inevitable; it raised the baseline on spending, particularly in areas like education, thereby making it more difficult to make cuts that are long overdue.

Federal Aid to States 1981 – 2009, in billions of dollars:

 

Compare the Aid to States chart, above, to the Public Debt chart, below, for the same period, both in billions of dollars:

 

Source: USGovernmentSpending.com, based on federal figures
  • Lobbyists and big-government advocates are focused and organized at the state and local levels
I’ve spent some time at the State Capitol in the past year and a half. What I’ve learned in my experience as an observer, visitor, and testifier is that lobbyists, organizations, and associations are now embedded in the process.6 Paid lobbyists, businesses, and funded organizations have the advantage… For lobbyists and formal organizations, there is money at stake. The lobbyists are paid to be at the Capitol, organizations and associations who do not employ a lobbyist are motivated to spend their time because they stand to benefit. Most citizens have schedules that make participation at the Capitol difficult; the majority of government business is conducted during weekday business hours.
  • Most Americans are focused on the federal government, not their state government
Nebraskans seem to believe their elected officials (and their state’s budget) are not the problem. Clear evidence of the sentiment can be seen in the results of the 2010 election. Nebraska voters who did vote (less than half of registered voters) on November 2 re-elected incumbents across the board by wide margins. Nebraska’s governor was re-elected by the widest margin of any governor in the country at 74% of the vote, all major state-level offices were once again filled by Republicans (see, again, NE Secretary of State site), and Nebraska’s three U.S. Congressman were re-elected handily. Since the Nebraska Legislature was already a super-majority of Republicans, voters showed their support for the status quo. Further evidence exists in the many emails that are forwarded or sent directly to me and in my conversations with concerned individuals; people know more about what is happening in Congress than in the State Legislature. With few Nebraskans “minding the store”, lobbyists, organizations, associations, their chosen political party, and campaign donors, are the major influencers of state-level politicians, not the citizens of the state.
  • Too many people simply want “goodies” from government
The entitlement mentality pervades… The continuous expansion of government spending has exploded entitlement programs and the entitlement mentality. As the chart below shows, 57% of the 2010 Federal government budget was spent on “entitlement” programs. The reason for the quotation marks is simple; the labels on the pie chart only label programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment compensation, workmen’s compensation and ‘other welfare’ programs. It depends upon how one defines the phrase entitlement program. What about subsidies, grants, and programs that are targeted at specific classes of Americans?
Federal Budget 2010 with entitlement programs labeled

 

The Welfare States… While there are far more welfare programs at the federal level, one of the reasons spending is out of control is because the states have increasingly needed bailout out from their own overspending. It’s become quite clear that the February 2009 Stimulus bill was not at all about stimulating the economy. Among the short list of things it was in fact, about, was a bailout for state governments. Cut everything! (Except the stuff *I* like) There are a number of “sacred cows” in Nebraska (and assuredly everywhere else) that people don’t want to touch. Some of these very programs were the direct reason why we have taken in hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds. At the top of that list are the K-12 and Secondary education budgets, the defined benefits retirement plan for state employees, and the “Cadillac” Medicaid program we offer. It seems that everyone has at least one “sacred cow”, some people, many. And that seems to be the root of the problem; people like to talk about cutting, until it’s their cow(s) on the chopping block. In some ways, our elected officials at the state level are simply carrying out policies that reflect the wishes of the people within the state. At the very least might be said that they are trying to keep everyone happy. And if it is a fact that almost everyone wants or believes they are “entitled to” something from government, then growth of government is (and has been, quite obviously) the natural result. If the entitlement mentality persists and politicians do nothing but say “yes”, we will all learn, in the not-too-distant-future, what that now over-used word “unsustainable” really means. Taking all of the above into account, ARE state level officials and bureaucrats opposed to the “imposition” of federal programs?

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This is not the first article we’ve written on this topic

FOOTNOTES:

  1. Part 1, Nullification NOT the Answer for Health Care (or anything else), is an overview of the series. I explain that I’ve changed my mind about nullification, give a brief list of reasons, each of which would be explained in future articles. Reason 1: Nullification does not work, explained through two examples; Part 2: History Has Proven Nullification a Failure – Just Look at REAL ID and  Part 3: Nullification Measures Not Stopping Health Care Implementation (Think Idaho).  This article, Part 4, and the next, explain Reason 2:  A belief in a number of erroneous concepts is required. Still to come: Reason 3: Pursuing this avenue prohibits focus on truly effective solutions and Reason 4: Nullification is neither right nor constitutional.
  2. A recent example of an elected official listing expenditures as accomplishment: In his book Decision Points, former President George W. Bush, repeatedly details how he measured the accomplishments of programs. It is my assessment, in fact, having read through page 409 of the 480 page book, that former President Bush was myopically focused on numbers. If numbers were trees, the President couldn’t see the forest.
  3. Base-line budgeting is the idea that spending for each future budget starts at the level spent previously and almost always automatically means that more money will be spent above that base line figure. In other words, a base-line budgeting mentality means spending will always increase. All projections are built on this concept, including expectations that revenues (i.e. taxation) will stay at current levels.
  4. Use-it-or-lose-it means that a department or agency must spend all the money budgeted or funding will be cut.
  5. The Aid to States chart was obtained from the most recent report on federal aid to states, from the US Census Bureau. Note that the chart cannot include all of the Stimulus (ARRA, starting in February 2009) funds disbursed, since there have been multiple distribution periods, not all of which occurred in 2009. Issued in August of 2010, the report lists many such other charts and graphs, and a number of breakdowns of federal dollars sent to the states per capita, by department / agency, and in other formats. The document can be viewed online and/or downloaded and printed by visiting my Scribd account by clicking HERE. Alternatively, it can be downloaded from the Census Bureau site by clicking HERE (archived link). The “Gross Public Debt” chart was obtained from USGovernmentSpending.com, which provides many tools and resources to work with figures provided by the federal government. The tool I used provides the ability to create a chart with a particular date range.
  6. It seems to me if someone giving testimony is not a lobbyist, director of a large organization, or owner of a business of some size, they’re not taken very seriously. This indicates elitism and familiarity among all the parties; constituents / taxpayers are not only “not qualified” but they are outsiders.