Yesterday’s New York Times has an article “Battles Looming Over Surpluses in Many States”, pointing out that “unexpectedly robust revenues from taxes and other sources are filling most state coffers, creating surpluses not seen in years and prompting statehouse battles over what to do with the money.” For example, in Kansas, Governor Sam Brownback is calling for full day kindergarten for all students.
This raises a larger issue. The states are recovering from the Great Recession and have lots of money. We know that states spend money far more efficiently than the federal government, because states have constitutional requirements to balance their budgets. On the other hand, the federal government is hemorrhaging red ink at a frightening rate which will just keep getting worse indefinitely until strong measures are taken. It has taken on far too many responsibilities and spends money very inefficiently.
All of this suggests an obvious course of action to turn around a very bad situation. We should devolve as many federal programs as possible back to the states. Here are three good ones to start with:
- Medicaid costs the federal government about $250 billion per year with another $150 billion being paid for by the states. The problem is that federal support is a fixed percentage of what the states spend. This makes Medicaid a very expensive program with no limit on the cost to the federal government. A good way to solve this problem is to “block grant” Medicaid to the states and let each state figure out the best way to spend its own federal allotment. Annual increases in the size of federal block grants could be tied to the rate of inflation in order to limit their growth.
- Education spending at the federal level is a $100 billion per year (not counting student loans) item. Just at the K-12 level alone there are over 100 individual programs to which states and school districts have to apply for funds separately. Wouldn’t it make far more sense to “block grant” education funds back to the states so that this large sum of money can be spent more effectively and efficiently by targeting it at the biggest needs in each state?
- Job-Training costs the federal government $18 billion per year for 47 different programs. Again it would be so much more sensible to block-grant job training funds to the states and measure effectiveness by the number of workers hired.
There really are relatively simple ways for the federal government to operate more effectively and at much lower cost. We need national leaders who are committed to getting this done.