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August 15, 2013

Inside Insight

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Breaking the Federal Ties That Bind S.C.

By Ashley Landess

South Carolina politicians have a reputation for standing up to the federal government – when they’re in public. They shake their fists at D.C. when the cameras are on and the crowds are gathered, but back in the State House complex they turn that fist into an open palm to take billions of federal dollars every year. In fact, of the three pots of money in the state budget federal funds make up the largest at 38 percent (followed by fees/fines in “other funds” and the general fund).

Bottom line? Washington controls more than one-third of the dollars spent in our state. And that money always comes with burdensome mandates and other state costs.

The push for federalism and state sovereignty reminds us that states created the federal government, not the other way around. Because that’s true, it stands to reason that the federal government could not make a law governing a function of state government. But because our state politicians have become so dependent upon the billions of federal dollars they take – and vote to appropriate – every year, they have allowed Washington to control our education system, health care programs and transportation decisions, and to impose countless regulations imposed on private businesses.

If we truly want independence from D.C., it’s time to start talking about turning down federal dollars and funding state programs with state dollars. If we want to stop Obamacare or push back against Common Core, we’ll have to disentangle from the nightmare web of federal funding for Medicaid and schools.

That isn’t as radical an idea as it used to be. No one argues that the biggest hammer the federal government has is the dependence of states on federal dollars. Nor can we any longer buy the excuse that “it’s our money and if we don’t take it, another state will.” If that’s true at all, it’s barely so. Most of the money coming back to the states now is debt, and for South Carolina some of the money comes from other states. We don’t have much to lose by turning down the borrowed dollars, but there is a lot to be gained from true independence from Washington. But to get there, South Carolinians will have to stop yelling at D.C. politicians on the TV set and start talking tough to the ones here at home.