We’ve come – or drifted – a long way since then-President Andrew Jackson vetoed a bill in 1830 that would have provided aid for a Kentucky road project.
Jackson argued that forcing taxpayers nationwide to pay for the road would be a “subversion of the federal system” since it was of “purely local character.”
Not only has such restraint – especially on the part of Washington – been a rarity during our lifetimes, but the increasing dependence of most states on federal funding for local projects has resulted in the “gold-plated octagon problem” that even Washington used to lament.
“Officials who evolved the administration’s revenue-sharing proposals say they are trying to solve ‘the gold-plated octagon problem,’” wrote the late Wall Street Journal editorial page editor Robert L. Bartley in the March 3, 1971 edition of that publication. “One explains, ‘If the federal government were giving away gold-plated octagons, and the cities had to pay half the cost, every damn city in the nation would have one.’”
But Washington power-seekers now not only tolerate such dependence, they welcome it – viewing such attachment to federal funding as a way to force upon states policies that the Constitution leaves no room for the federal government to meddle with.
Not only does such an approach weaken states’ ability to protect their citizens against increasing overreach by the federal government, it also can have downright absurd results.
How else do you explain the fact that drivers get ticketed in Kentucky if anyone in their vehicle gets caught not wearing a seat belt, but motorcyclists older than 21 years of age are not required to even wear a helmet while on the road?
The aha! moment comes when you discover that our Washington masters threatened to withhold hundreds of millions of federal highway-fund dollars unless Kentucky passed a seat-belt law.
Some well-intentioned policymakers hold that if Kentucky doesn’t take its share of federal pork, other states will.
Such an attitude has allowed a “subversion of the federal system” that promises to be much-more harmful than the erosion of personal liberty signified by tightly strapped seat belts.
When the Obama administration waved $4.3 billion of so-called “Race to the Top” funding in front of states in 2009, it did so with the intention of inducing them to do what the feds have absolutely no constitutional business meddling with: adopt one-size-fits-all educational standards.
State bureaucrats care little about minor nuisances like constitutional principles – especially when so much money is at stake.
Combine that apathy for how federalism is supposed to work with the fact that the states were having their toughest times since the Great Depression figuring out how to balance their budgets, and bureaucrats jumped at the cash.
Kentucky like a desperate date jumped first and hard.
The worst part of this story, though, is that it unalterably committed an entire commonwealth and its students to Common Core State Standards four months before anyone even knew what those standards – the result of a very nontransparent process – would even actually look like.
Common Core now is recognized as a dumbed-down, minimalist approach totally lacking in key academic areas like advanced high-school mathematics – coursework needed to ensure students have access to careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The naïve supporters not only of this policy – but of the way it went down – will, with serious faces, claim “this isn’t federally mandated policy.” Yet without the promise of Race to the Top dollars, many states would have told Washington where it could get off – on Ninth and Tenth Amendment streets.
As the “gold-plated octagon” represents, not only do most state policymakers and bureaucrats seem to lack any real will to address this subversion, but like addicts, want the thrill of the rush even if it puts vulnerable citizens at risk of being negatively impacted by harmful policy.