Firefighters, Teachers and Police - Not a Federal Responsibility

Brian Darling

6/18/2012 12:01:00 AM - Brian Darling
The left wants us to believe that paying for teachers, firefighters and police is a federal responsibility. Not so. Such services have traditionally been the responsibility of state and local governments.

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.

Since the Clinton Administration, the federal government has also funded the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) hiring grant program. It funnels billions of federal tax dollars to state and local police departments—as well as park police, college police and other law enforcement agencies.

Unfortunately, exhaustive research by The Heritage Foundation’s David Muhlhausen has demonstrated that COPS is completely " ineffective at reducing crime. ." President Obama’s “stimulus” program encouraging state and local governments to take on additional temporary police officers is even less intelligently designed. It’s a classic example of squandering federal dollars on functions that are none of DC’s business to begin with.

The federal government, already too large, with spending far above the post World War II norm. On May 31, 2012, Alison Fraser of Heritage testified to the House Budget Committee that “today, federal spending is at about 23 percent of [Gross Domestic Product], and debt held by the public is approximately 70 percent. When compared to the historical, post–World War II average of approximately 20 percent of GDP for federal spending and 44 percent for debt held by the public, this growth alone would be cause for concern.”

James Pethokoukis of AEI estimates that, under President Obama, federal spending totalled 25.2% of GDP in 2009, 24.1% of GDP in 2010, 24.1% of GDP in 2011, and 24.3% (estimates by the White House ) this year. And much of that spending is with borrowed dollars. Our national debt now stands at $15.8 trillion , up from $10.6 when Obama took office. The federal government simply does not have the money to bail out profligate states or municipalities.

The Constitution is clear. The states are the repository of police powers. State and local employees should not be supported by federal funds for constitutional as well as fiscal reasons. Yes, federal funds have flowed to state and local governments to hire firefighters, teachers, and police. But that doesn’t make the practice prudent or proper.

Bail out shortfalls in state and local treasuries is not a core function of the federal government. It is but an example of the central government is infringing on the traditional domain of the states.