This morning the New York Times carries as its lead story something with this headline: States’ Rights Is Rallying Cry of Resistance for Lawmakers. And the article is replete with examples of state lawmakers passing measures that would, in theory, limit the reach of the federal government. So, just to repeat the examples that The Times leads with (having done our work for us already):
Gov. Mike Rounds of South Dakota, a Republican, signed a bill into law on Friday declaring that the federal regulation of firearms is invalid if a weapon is made and used in South Dakota.
On Thursday, Wyoming’s governor, Dave Freudenthal, a Democrat, signed a similar bill for that state. The same day, Oklahoma’s House of Representatives approved a resolution that Oklahomans should be able to vote on a state constitutional amendment allowing them to opt out of the federal health care overhaul.
In Utah, lawmakers embraced states’ rights with a vengeance in the final days of the legislative session last week. One measure said Congress and the federal government could not carry out health care reform, not in Utah anyway, without approval of the Legislature. Another bill declared state authority to take federal lands under the eminent domain process. A resolution asserted the “inviolable sovereignty of the State of Utah under the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution.”
The Times article points out that legal and constitutional scholars are pretty much of the view that this is mostly a bunch of hot air. But that doesn’t seem to be deterring state lawmakers from shouting a lot. It turns out there’s something called The Patrick Henry caucus in the Utah legislature which, according to The Times, “formed last year and led the assault on federal legal barricades in the session that ended Thursday.” There’s also something called The Tenth Amendment Center, which prides itself on pushing this sort of thing, as if Article 6 of the Constitution didn’t exist. It’s worth a quick look just to see how bizarrely some of this stuff can be dressed up.
We’ve been here before, of course, as we noted in our comment on the secessionists last summer. And, once again, it’s useful to drag out that interesting data from The Tax Foundation on which states are Givers and which states are Takers. Givers, remember, are states whose federal tax payments exceed money received back from the federal government; Takers are states who get back more in federal taxes than they pay. This is actually a useful way to look at the world, because, as is often the case, when you follow the money (or lack of it), a different story emerges. We might think of giver states as, say, Parents, and taker states as, say, Deadbeat Offspring. All sorts of potentially colourful labels emerge, but we’ll leave it at that.
Because, once again, you have to wonder if anyone knows anything anymore. Let’s take that Patrick Henry group in Utah, who probably think they’re choosing between Liberty or Death. If we check the good old Tax Foundation data for 2005 (the most recent year for which they present data), it turns out that Utah is—yes!—a taker, getting back $1.07 in federal spending for every $1 in federal taxes paid. So, Utah—a deadbeat state. South Dakota–ditto. South Dakota gets back a whopping $1.53 for every $1 paid in federal taxes. That’s pretty impressive. Wyoming? Check—it gets back $1.11 for every $1 paid. Oklahoma—a state with lots of oil? Hey, look, Oklahoma gets back $1.36 for every $1 paid.
Most of this, according to The Times, is driven by conservative ideology:
“There’s a tsunami of interest in states’ rights and resistance to an overbearing federal government; that’s what all these measures indicate,” said Gary Marbut, the president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association, which led the drive last year for one of the first “firearms freedoms,” laws like the ones signed last week in South Dakota and Wyoming.
In most cases, conservative anxiety over federal authority is fueling the impulse, with the Tea Party movement or its members in the backdrop or forefront. Mr. Herrod in Utah said that he had spoken at Tea Party rallies, for example, but that his efforts, and those of the Patrick Henry Caucus, were not directly connected to the Tea Partiers.
But not all:
And in some cases, according to the Tenth Amendment Center, the politics of states’ rights are veering left. Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin, for example — none of them known as conservative bastions — are considering bills that would authorize, or require, governors to recall or take control of National Guard troops, asserting that federal calls to active duty have exceeded federal authority.
Actually, this is potentially interesting—Vermont is a taker ($1.08), but Wisconsin is one of the 17 (yes, only 17) giver sates (at $0.86), and Rhode Island gets back exactly as much as it pays out. And Montana? Right, Montana gets back $1.47 for every buck it gives to the dreaded and overbearing federal government.
Really, the solution to this is pretty simple. Just pass a Constitutional Amendment that would prohibit states from receiving more in federal disbursements than it pays in federal taxes. If residents of Montana and Utah and the Old South (where secession talk has been cropping up more frequently) want to moan about the overbearance of the federal government, they should man up and agree not to take any more money from the federal government than they pay in. Gee, I wonder how that will turn out. Otherwise, let’s just laugh at them for being the hypocritical deadbeats that they are, and if we live in a Giver state, start leaning on our representatives about why we continue to subsidize these states whose legislatures clearly don’t appreciate it.