[FoRK] "Foes in Congress unite in defense of property rights"

J. Andrew Rogers andrew
Mon Jul 4 23:16:14 PDT 2005

Joe Barrera wrote:
> Unfortunately, the tool they plan to use -- withholding of
> Federal funds -- points out again what a joke "State's
> Rights" is in these times.

This issue is pretty complicated.

For example, the alcohol regulations tied to highway funding were
subject to fiscal impact studies by both Minnesota and Nevada, both of
which concluded that the annual added compliance costs alone far
exceeded the highway funds at risk based on some pretty solid historical
data.  Other states have concluded that the loss in excise taxes on
alcohol due to the regulations exceeds the highway funds at risk.  The
highway funds tie-ins (speed limits, .08 BAC, and 21-year drinking age)
were the prototypes for this and subject to lengthy court and political
battles, and there was not insignificant evidence that the safety
benefits of these regulations were negligible -- many other States had
already implemented them.

So given that many States objected to the regulations in principle and
stood to profit by foregoing the highway funds, why didn't they?  The
answer, unfortunately, is uglier than the superficial appearance. 
During the two decade battle over highway fund forfeitures due to
attempted alcohol policy regulation, the Federal government and the
Federal level political parties developed a few very effective ways of
keeping the State political parties on the Federal reservation.

1.) The Federal government created well-funded persistent slush funds
(annual line items) to attack State forfeiture movements and to promote
Federal regulations in "difficult" States.

2.) They bribed States that did leave the reservation.  If you forfeit
the Federal funds for several years, but then decide to toe the line,
they will not only pay the State all forfeited funds from prior years as
a lump sum, they will also attach a large additional bonus as well.  In
practice, the State governments and politicians have a hard time
resisting the urge to grab that large and growing pile of "free money"
to do with as they please, if only they toe the line.

3.) The national political parties take money away (or threaten to take
money away) from State political parties that do not support the Federal
party's agenda.  This was a key lever in a number of forfeiture votes in
State legislatures, and is a disturbing glimpse into how the power
structures are organized -- even local politicians are often more
beholden to the national political parties than the welfare of their
constituents.  Which also illustrates why it is so difficult to change
political parties from the grass roots up.

In case you hadn't noticed, the highway fund tie-ins worked out really
well for the Federal government.  Despite adamant objections by many
States, they all caved eventually.  The Federal government took the
lessons to heart and has learned how to win that game.


j. andrew rogers

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