THE BLOG

The Government That Governs Best

03/31/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In his response to President Obama's State of the Union address, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell revived a classic GOP sentiment that has been absent from the Republican lexicon in recent years as the party now relies on the federal government to undermine stricter state consumer and financial regulations:

As our Founders clearly stated, and we Governors understand, government closest to the people governs best.

To which Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein immediately snarked via Twitter:

If governors really believed that government closest to the people is best, wouldn't they be mayors?

New York Governor David Paterson demonstrated the truth in this quip last week when he unveiled his $134 billion budget, which included a $700 million reduction in aid to New York City that would force the city to layoff thousands of workers. As The New York Times editorialized on Friday:

The mayor and his aides are understandably galled that Gov. David Paterson of New York is not talking about any serious cuts to the state work force... The new pension plan was needed, but Mayor Bloomberg is right that it is unfair for city workers to bear the burden now for Governor Paterson's deal.

New York City's budget shortfall is estimated at around $5 billion, which is on the same order of magnitude as that of the state, which reaches $7.4 billion. Yet, the governor exerts authority over his budget as if his was the only budget in the state with a (enormous) deficit. This leaves Mayor Bloomberg to raise hell by warning that 8,500 teachers and 3,150 police would be laid off if the Governor's cuts go through, granted that there is little reason to believe that the Mayor's first cuts would be to such vital - and influential - members of the city's workforce.

In recent years, cities have become more reliant on state aid as federal aid has decreased, leaving city workforces and services vulnerable to state governments that suffer much less political heat from constituents about cuts in aid to cities. The stimulus package worsened this problem by funneling fiscal assistance through state governments and targeting less than one percent of funds directly at cities.

States, one might think, would know better than to shortchange their urban brethren: governors and state legislatures constantly gripe about unfunded and partially funded federal mandates that force service provision onto states without providing sufficient funding (think No Child Left Behind and Medicaid). Instead, as in New York City's case, reducing aid to urban areas is an easy option for state governments: such reductions will total more than $20 billion over the next several years.

As more and more individuals seek out city governments for food assistance, health services, and public schooling during the economic downturn, states must support - not undermine - their urban areas. Privileging larger cities with direct federal funding might ease tension between state and city governments that too often result in decisions that harm ordinary Americans.