In Federalist 45, James Madison wrote that the powers of the federal government are “few and defined.” Madison argued that state power extends to issues that “concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.” Nowhere in the Constitution is the federal government given the explicit power to supplant the traditional police powers of the states.
Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution enumerates powers granted to the federal government. Nowhere does it list the power to “bail out the states who come up short in paying for firefighters, police and teachers.” Furthermore, when the feds “give” lesser governments money to pay for local responsibilities, they often attach conditions to funding that may be unconstitutional.
The 10th Amendment states “the 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.” The educating of children, the protection of the populace from crime and the suppression of fires are clearly powers reserved to the states.
Last week, the Left hit Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney with the supposedly shaming accusation that he wants to cut funding for these state and local functions. They went into a tizzy when Romney remarked that “teachers and firemen and policemen are hired at the local level and also by states. The federal government doesn’t pay for teachers, firefighters or policemen.”
Michael McAuliff of the Huffington Post pointed out that “the federal government spends huge amounts of money to support all those professions.” This is true, yet the federal government does things frequently that many consider to be outside of the proper scope of the federal powers. You need look no further than the individual mandate contained in ObamaCare to see a law that many argue is an unconstitutional exercise of federal authority.
McAuliff observed that “in the Lyndon Johnson administration, [the feds] started paying out Title 1 education funds, and this year, it is slated to spend $14.5 billion under Title 1. The money is meant to help disadvantaged schools.” Many conservatives argue that the federal government, even when well intentioned, should stay out of state and local education decisions. The Constitution agrees.