“Contrary to what the Times reported, that policy is not “legally shaky.” It relies on the well-established anti-commandeering doctrine, which says the federal government cannot compel state and local officials to enforce its criminal laws or regulatory schemes.
That doctrine is rooted in the basic design of our government, which limits Congress to a short list of specifically enumerated powers and leaves the rest to the states or the people, as the 10th Amendment makes clear. That division of powers gives states wide discretion to experiment with different policies, some of which are bound to offend the Times.
The paper suggests that defending state autonomy is disreputable, because that argument was “deployed in the past in the South to resist antislavery and civil rights laws.” But federalism does not give states a license to violate rights guaranteed by the Constitution or to flout laws authorized by it.
Although the Times tries to tar the anti-commandeering principle as racist, the same basic idea was a crucial weapon for Northern states that refused to help the federal government enforce the Fugitive Slave Act. Today that principle likewise means that state and local officials have no obligation to participate in the “deportation crackdowns” that the Times decries.
Similarly, the ongoing collapse of marijuana prohibition—a development the Times welcomes—would be impossible if states were obligated to participate in the federal war on weed. While both progressives and conservatives might wish that federalism could be limited to achieving results they like, that is not how constitutional principles work.”
“nearly a decade after the Supreme Court ruled that states could choose whether to expand their Medicaid programs, the fight over whether to do so is far from over. So far, 38 states and Washington, DC, have expanded Medicaid, covering nearly 15 million people. In the dozen states that have not, 4 million people are uninsured who would receive Medicaid coverage if their state expanded eligibility under the ACA. More than 95 percent live in the South, they are disproportionately Black, and many are not eligible for subsidies to buy private coverage on the ACA markets.”
“One of the first things on the agenda this year for Kentucky Republicans was figuring out how to kneecap Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear. They dropped legislation in January that placed new limits on the governor’s emergency executive powers, quickly passed the bill, overrode his veto and then fought him in court.
In the months that have followed, lawmakers across the country — from Maine to California, Oregon to Florida — have proposed and, in many cases, passed similar measures to curtail the sweeping powers bestowed on their state executives.”
“Most governors insisted throughout the crisis that they were being guided by evolving science and trying to navigate uncertain terrain as best they could. But patience appears to have worn out for many legislators consigned to the backseat.”
“In some states, it has been a continuation of philosophical differences that have played out over the course of the still-ongoing pandemic. That dynamic has been particularly evident in places sporting Democratic governors contending with GOP-controlled statehouses like Kentucky, Kansas and Michigan, where conservative outrage over Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s pandemic mandates put her in physical danger last year.
But for other governors, it has been members of their own party who have been the ones trying to wrestle back control and deliver emphatic rebukes of their state’s leadership, as was the case in New York and Ohio last month.”
“Generally speaking, however, the GOP has tilted far more toward limiting what governors are allowed to do by law than Democrats to date.”
“In their 2017 tax bill, Republicans partially closed a tax loophole that mainly affected higher-income people in high-tax areas — i.e., relatively well-off people in blue states. They capped the state and local tax deduction (SALT) people can take when calculating their federal income tax at $10,000. People can still deduct state and local taxes from their federal tax bill, but only up to that point.
Many Democrats — namely, those from states such as New York, New Jersey, and California — want to repeal the SALT deduction cap and go back to the old regime, where people could deduct all (or at least more) of their state and local taxes. They argue the cap unfairly drives up their constituents’ tax bills, might keep their states from implementing more progressive tax regimes on high-income people, and was a vindictive move by the GOP in the first place.”
“But some Democrats, Republicans, and economists are saying hold the phone.
“The vast majority of the benefits of repealing the SALT cap would go to the people at the very top. It would also be costly — and for that amount, we could finance much more worthy efforts to support American families and workers. We can say we are for a progressive tax code and for fighting inequality, or we can support the SALT deduction, but it is really hard to do both,” said Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) in a statement to Vox. When the Senate took up a vote on whether to repeal the SALT cap in December 2019, he was the only Democrat to vote against it.”
“The state, which has no income tax, pulls about a third of its budget from the federal government, a higher share than many other states, he said. That’s partly due to agricultural assistance and federal aid disbursed after natural disasters, but also because Texas has a large share of enrollees in entitlement programs like Medicaid.”
“Most of these bills are not as aggressive as Georgia’s, but they all undermine localities’ ability to self-rule. In this way, Illinois State University political scientist Lori Riverstone-Newell told FiveThirtyEight, they’re part of an increasing trend of states preempting local government in order to retain power for themselves: Conservative legislatures, in particular, have passed several laws in recent years that limit the types of laws municipalities can pass, including sanctuary-city protections, anti-LGBT discrimination ordinances and minimum-wage increases (especially in the South). These laws can often have what Riverstone-Newell calls a “chilling effect,” where the mere threat of having their power taken away makes local officials afraid to govern as they see fit.”
“Few states have a record as unblemished as Vermont.
The odds could have been stacked against the state. The virus arrived in Vermont during the first wave sweeping the country. It shares borders with some of the hardest-hit states and has the third-oldest population in the country.
But Vermont swiftly flattened its initial wave and has since gone weeks at a time without any new confirmed infections. Fewer than 60 people have died, giving the state the second-fewest deaths per capita behind Alaska, which has seen surging caseloads in recent weeks. If the country as a whole had the same per capita death rate as Vermont, the nationwide death toll would be 30,000 instead of more than 215,000.”
“While health experts say the state has likely benefited from its rural geography, other sparsely populated areas of the country that let their guard down were overwhelmed by the virus this spring and summer. That sense of complacency never took hold in Vermont, where a moderate Republican governor and a Democratic-led Legislature helped defuse partisan tensions that hampered the response elsewhere.
“Any state that’s going to succeed against Covid has got to have the compliance of the population, because every single thing you do is telling people to alter their personal behavior,” Mark Levine, Vermont’s health commissioner, said in an interview.”
“Vermont reopened slowly. The lockdown it put in place in late March is still gradually being lifted, restaurants and bars are still limited to 50 percent indoor capacity and even outdoor gatherings are still subject to a 150-person limit.”
“Local governments have authority to set their own stricter rules. Burlington, the state’s most populous city, reduced its outdoor gathering limit to 25 in late August when college students began returning to nearby campuses.”
“The state is also strict about visitors, requiring a two-week quarantine for people arriving from places with higher infection rates. And it invested early in testing and contact tracing and implemented a state-wide mask mandate early on.”
” Vermont’s experience has some similarities to Alaska, another predominantly rural state that until recent weeks kept the virus at bay through one of the country’s most proactive testing regimes and a strictly enforced quarantine requirement for travelers. But unlike Alaska, Vermont is just a few hours’ drive from New York City, the outbreak’s early epicenter, and that makes its performance even more noteworthy.”
“Washington state shows larger urban centers can mount an effective defense against the virus with rapid coordination and an early focus on vulnerable populations.
“Washington was the tip of the spear,” Riley said. “They were the first and had to make decisions really fast.”
The state in late January reported the nation’s first case of Covid-19, and the pathogen’s tear through a Seattle-area nursing home was the first indication of how thoroughly the facilities would soon be devastated nationwide. But the state quickly got its act together.”
“The state’s success stems from extensive data sharing, which helped health officials better target their response measures once state restrictions and business closures during the initial lockdown were eased. That meant a better view into where the virus was still lurking and knowing where to direct critical resources like testing, protective equipment and hospital surge capacity.”
“Washington health authorities understood early the need to protect the elderly, identifying people living in nursing homes and assisted living communities as particularly vulnerable clusters.
When Congress gave states a 6.2 percent bump to their federal Medicaid funds in March, Washington was among a handful of states that largely used the windfall to provide targeted aid to nursing homes, helping them pay for additional staffing, equipment and hazard pay. New York was not.”
“A report from the National League of Cities in May revealed that the states weren’t very good at getting the money to local governments. Also, a new dataset collected by the Department of the Treasury Office of Inspector General that looks at how much the state and local governments have spent of their coronavirus relief bill funds as of June 30 shows that they have spent much less than you might think.
Some states have spent virtually none of the money allocated by Uncle Sam.
South Carolina, for example, has yet to use its $2 billion in relief. Michigan, which is asking for a bailout, spent only 3 percent of the more than $3 billion it received. New Jersey is also asking for a bailout, yet it has distributed a measly 2.1 percent of its federal funds so far.
The states demanding bailouts may likely argue that what they really need is more flexibility in order to be able to use federal funds to address their revenue shortfalls. As matters stand right now, states must use the bailout money on coronavirus-related expenditures. So, when those actual expenditures are lower than the allocated funds, they can’t spend them.
The flexibility argument doesn’t hold water, in my opinion. It’s one thing for state and local governments to ask the federal government for help to cover expenditures they couldn’t foresee, such as those related to the pandemic. But they shouldn’t be asking federal taxpayers to pay for their routine expenditures, especially when these governments have failed to plan appropriately for revenue shortfalls that inevitably occur, as they’re bound to encounter emergencies. Governments should prepare for them. They should cut spending and, if that’s not enough, they should turn to their own citizens for the funds needed to cover non-coronavirus expenditures. Those funds could be obtained through higher taxes or spending cuts elsewhere. Their routine spending should come from their taxes.
State and local governments are always eager to have the federal government solve their financial problems for them. But they will continue to have financial difficulties as long as Uncle Sam continues to cave. The first step toward having healthier and more responsible state and local governments would be no bailout.”