The Great Washington Explosion

Bruce Bialosky

8/11/2013 12:01:00 AM - Bruce Bialosky

You may be walking around thinking that you are just a small person with no say regarding what your government should be doing. You vote every chance you get, but it seems like the government grows more distant and less responsive. You feel this anguish of hopelessness that the government you grew up with is slipping away. All those feelings are justified because the monolith of Washington, DC, is swallowing up all levels of government -- thereby further distancing you from having any say over your life.

Certainly, it was not always this way. David Brinkley, one of our greatest and most historic newscasters, in 1996 wrote a terrific book that clarified for us the genesis of Washington, DC, being the center of the universe. In Washington Goes to War, Brinkley tells of how a sleepy little town became the central focus of the most powerful country in the world. By the time anyone read the book in the late 1990’s, we were already accepting the omnipotence of D.C. However, since then, the control over our lives has become even more pervasive.

The Tax Foundation (Taxfoundation.org) performed an analysis of how deeply D.C. has its claws in our everyday life. What they showed on a map (found on their website) is the percentage of each state’s budget that comes from Washington funding. The range of state budgets beholden to the federal government are Alaska, at the low-end coming in at 24%, to Mississippi which has 49% of its budget funded by the federal government.

In analyzing the study, it is impossible to point the finger at conservative vs. liberal states as to how they exist on federal funds. The reason is that high tax states may have a lower percent of their revenue coming from federal funds because of the huge revenue they collect. A perfect example is California has only 32.4% and Illinois has 33.7% of their funding coming from Washington, while Florida has 36.9% and Texas has 40% of their state budget being paid from federal funds. That being said even those who argue for state’s rights still feed at the federal trough.

Governors and state legislatures would argue that it makes sense that so much money comes from the federal government because of the immense amount of mandates they have to confront coming from Washington. They would even argue that there are many more unfunded mandates that are forced upon them by the feds. If that is true, it just more clearly defines how much say people in D.C. have over each state’s spending priorities.

I spoke to Tad DeHaven of the Cato Institute to find out whether there exists similar analysis for municipal governments. It is clear that counties and cities receive their own funding from D.C. directly and substantial additional funds that flow through the fingers of bureaucrats in their state capitals. Unfortunately, no analysis exists that definitively shows what we know: Washington through the power of funding has control over every level of government in America.

There are two ramifications of this. First, our state and municipal leaders are constantly prowling the halls of Congress begging for money. Instead of being home to take care of the needs of their constituents they are pleading for more money from Washington, which comes with multiple strings attached. Our local officials then tell us their hands are tied because of being beholden to those people far away in D.C. We all suffer because we have a less responsive government.

The second factor focuses on the biggest reason this governmental funding shell game continues. That is the fact that the federal government can deficit finance (print money) unlike other levels of government. City, county and state government must balance their budgets, but if they do it, it is with federal funds that are borrowed. The end game is we lose more and more control over our governments and how they are run.

The federal government’s pervasiveness does not stop there. In a recent column that ran in the Wall Street Journal by James Pierson of the Manhattan Institute, he defined how the government has taken over control of charities as they now receive one-third of their funds from government. It also defines what we all know. The not-for-profit organizations in turn have huge lobbying operations in Washington. The charities which were set up to counterbalance the power of government are now going hat in hand to the government wonks and in turn are beholden to them. The say of the lay leaders of these organizations becomes insignificant compared to the control asserted by Washington funding sources.

The growth of D.C. and its suburbs since the days of World War II has been gargantuan. The control they assert over our lives has been commensurate with that growth. The richest counties in America are those surrounding our nation’s capital. You speak to people in Washington and they give you a passing nod because you are not here in the center of the universe – you don’t really understand.

If you are feeling that your say over your daily life is slipping away, you are justified in that feeling. That $3.7 trillion federal budget dictates what we do at all levels. Control over our lives as we know it is slipping away. It gets worse every day and we need to begin the process of reversing this erosion of our freedoms.