“Fiscal Cliff” Shows Why Local Government Shouldn’t Be So Dependent On Federal Government

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As the much-hyped “fiscal cliff” looms, local governments are worried about what potential cuts and spending policy changes could mean for them.

A group of mayors from some of the nation’s larger cities have rushed to Washington to plead with federal policymakers to avoid the cliff, and cuts to their appropriations. Here in North Dakota, local government leaders and bureaucrats are also worried, hand-wringing over what cuts could mean for their budgets.

And they’re right to be worried. Federal spending is a big, and growing, part of North Dakota’s budget:

Whatever else the “fiscal cliff” might mean for America, can we admit that it exposes the folly of a pervasive federal government the tentacles of which extend into even the most local of functions?

An ugly truth of modern American government is that lower levels of government are eternally punting their problems up to higher levels of government. Whether it’s municipal/county/township governments, or even state governments, “leadership” in local government seems to have become about how well you can fill out the paperwork to get federal money.

The effect this has had, over generations, is the accumulation of huge amounts of spending on local issues at the federal level. The federal government’s willingness to take on very local spending projects has resulted in the creation of a moral hazard whereby spending projects for which local citizens don’t want to pay taxes can be punted up the government ladder to the federal government.

But now that the federal government’s fiscal mess is reaching critical mass, that house of cards is teetering.

Maybe it’s time for local projects to be funded by local tax dollars? If a given city wants a new road, or wants some new bike paths, maybe the taxpayers in that city (or the state government, at the most) should provide those funds rather than the federal government? Because, as the fiscal cliff proves, the federalization of local policy is folly.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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