Essay: Føderalisme i USA

Da jeg besøkte USA på et sommerseminar i år var en del av arbeidet å skrive essays om amerikansk politikk. Ett av de områdene der folk ofte misforstår amerikansk politikk, er når det kommer til føderalisme. Mens en i Norge har en enhetsstat uten lovbestemt lokalt selvstyre, har USA delstater med egne lover og myndighetsområder.

Statenes rettigheter kommer av grunnloven, og der ligger begrunnelsen mange i USA har for å legge ned det føderale utdanningsdepartementet. En er ikke imot å ha et utdanningsdepartement, en mener bare at det er en oppgave som hører hjemme hos delstatene, ikke hos føderalstaten. Utviklingen har likevel gått for det meste i en retning i USA, slik at føderalstaten får enda mer makt.

Mye av kritikken mot Obamas helselov finnes i denne konflikten, og det er kritikk jeg har sansen for. Delstatene burde ha denne makten, ikke politikerne i DC. Mye annet av kritikken er heller vanskelig å forsvare, men det er viktig å se føderalstatsdebatten når den dukker opp. I USA er ikke det like sjelden som vi har lokaldemokratidebatt i Norge.

Et av essayene jeg skrev var altså om dette temaet, og kan leses her:

States’ rights with increasing federal grants

The 10th Amendment to the United States clearly states that all «powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.» (1) That said, the federal government has increased it’s budgetary influence over the individual states, through federal grants and mandates. The act of channeling funds from the taxpayers straight to the federal government, and then redistribute it among the states, including eligibility threshold, gives the federal government great power in dictating state law and policy. The question could then be asked, if the autonomy of the individual states are compromised by these federal grant.

Federal grants also include support to individuals, where the federal government circumvene the states entirely. My focus for this essay, however, is the grants that are distributed from the federal government to the states, and to see how reliant the states are, and to briefly discuss the autonomy issue.

In his last State of the State address, Governor Schwarzenegger emphazised the importance of federal grants in California’s budget. He said that «Federal Funds have to be part of our budget solution, because the federal government is parti of our budget problem.» (2) He went on to list a number of states and how much they received from the federal government, compared to how much their taxpayers contributed. California only got 78 cents a dollar back, down from 94 cents in the Clinton era. Texas was at $0.94, Pennsylvania had a net income, with $1.04, the oil state of Alaska got $1.84, and finally New Mexico recieved $2.03 back for every dollar their citizens paid in federal taxes. Schwarzenegger’s speech didn`t touch the autonomy issue, but he clearly stated a fairness argument, and proved that California was dependent on getting a fairer share of the federal money.

There is an argument to be made that the federal government’s tax base is the same as the individual states’, and that the federal government collect funds that just as well could`ve been collected by the states themselves. Given the 10th Amendment, and the knowledge that these funds often come with some strings attached, there`s plenty of room to argue that the autonomy of the states is suffering, at least from a descriptive point of view. If this is normatively good or bad is a much different, and complex discussion.

In June 1987, The Supreme Court of the United States upheld a federal mandate on drinking age. (3) The mandate stated that states that wanted to receive the regular amount of federal funding for highways had to adopt legislations setting the legal drinking age at 21. It was South Dakota who challenged the mandate, and the dissenting opinion of two justices stated that this provision was not «reasonably related to the federal program.» The fear of long-term impact was great. If this mandate was upheld, what was to stop the federal government to dictate other parts of state laws? Here, the argument was not fairness of fiscal, but based in fear of losing autonomy, and an increasing centralization of power to Washington, DC.

So, when did this start? According to Jason Sorens, now Assistant Professor at the University of Buffalo, it started with the the great depression. (4) In 1927, he stated, local governments held 73 % of the revenue, and today`s it´s less than 40 %. He defines four other centralization periods, namely 1940-46, 1961-69, 1971-77 and 1991-95. These periods correlates with democrats holding the White House, with the exception of 1971-77. During Ronald Reagan`s presidency, a «new federalism» emerged, where he tried to return administrative powers to the state governments. However, according to Sorens’ numbers, the local revenue didn’t increase a whole lot during this time, but the reduction of local governments` share of the revenue was halted.

A strict interpretation of the Constitution, and the 10th Amendment, would be that all transfers of power and money from the states to the federal government is a reduction of autonomy. The federal government, as the Founding Fathers saw it, shouldn’t be too powerful. Today`s reality, however, is quite the opposite.


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