The federal government has more power than ever before, but in 2013, a growing number of states and communities pushed back against federal overreach. Find the top ten examples of lawmakers and citizens putting federalism in action this past exciting year.
Several national legislator membership organizations have announced federalism is a major focus for 2014. The Council of State Government’s new “Focus on Federalism” initiative is working to “restore laboratories of democracy.” The American Legislative Exchange Council recently released 13 proposals to restore the balance between the federal government and the states.
States are learning more about what the Common Core Standards entail and they are not happy to find that it will lead to more centralized oversight. In response, many states have rejected or halted portions of Common Core implementation. They are instead exploring local solutions to improve educational performance.
These days there are not too many bright spots coming from Washington, D.C., but U.S. Senator Mike Lee’s new bill, the Transportation Empowerment Act, might be a step in a new direction. For years, local communities and states have suffered from poor federal management of roads. This proposal would transfer transportation authority and control back to the states with the goal of improving efficiency and costs.
Poor federal management of Western land is harming communities, destroying natural resources, and stifling opportunities for innovation and job creation. This year, Nevada passed legislation to begin to study the transfer of public lands, making it the fifth Western state to take such action.
The fight for these lands is not just an issue for Western states; it is an issue that affects the nation. This is why South Carolina passed a resolution in 2013 supporting the transfer of public lands in the West.
Financial Ready Utah is a nonpartisan coalition headed by Utah’s CPA association that works to bring fiscal decision-making back to their state. This year, the Utah legislature passed seven bills that will reduce the state’s fiscal dependence on the federal government. At a time when the federal government’s fiscal future is more uncertain than ever, Utah is working hard to make tough decisions now and solve fiscal problems on its own.
In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court made a critical ruling on federalism in NFIB v. Sebelius. It declared unconstitutional the Affordable Care Act’s (Obamacare) “carrot and stick” approach to Medicaid expansion. States now have the option to expand Medicaid without the threat of losing their current funding. In 2013, 23 states refused to expand a federal healthcare program in their state because they understood that accepting federal dollars comes with strings attached and without future guarantees.
Indiana Governor Mike Pence started an entirely new government office to bring decision-making back to the state and local level. Indiana’s new Office of State Based Initiatives will work to evaluate federal funding and grant “opportunities” to determine whether or not it is fiscally wise for their state to accept federal dollars.
Several states have initiated federalism commissions or committees in their legislative bodies. For example, this year, Utah passed legislation that established a bipartisan commission on federalism. These commissions and committees serve two great purposes: they check the power and directives coming from Washington, D.C., and they provide a formal avenue for states to collaborate with one another across state lines.
There was no contest for the brightest moment of 2013: the growing momentum from state lawmakers advancing federalism in the states by making significant strides to restore local decision-making. You can find a few profiles and highlights of the many federalism all stars from across the nation on our website here, here, and here.
As you can see, federalism is alive and well in communities across the nation. 2014 is sure to bring new challenges and continued overreach from Washington, but as we reflect back on 2013, we are grateful for the many ways in which local people are making a difference and restore local control.