Rethinking How We Pay for Public Services

I was re-reading a Paul Krugman Op-Ed from Dec 29 08 today. In this article, he was marginally critical of the Governors of all 50 states…more than marginally for some, including ours in CA. In Krugman’s view, the states should be equal partners with the federal government in fueling the financial recovery efforts. Hmmm…nice thought, but it looks to me like the states are no longer capable of this kind of financial partnership.

For at least four decades, our states have been destabilized as the federal government assumed program and tax responsibilities for more and more public services. The positive consequences of this shift of responsibility are significant…and I like many of them. Equality has been advanced. Standardized expectations have been set and have been increased through time. National, ‘big picture’ problems have been tackled with some remarkable successes. But…the states have been destabilized in the process. It’s just another one of those pesky trade-offs that complicate our lives.

Krugman is spot-on right with one of his key sentences: “And once the crisis is behind us, we should rethink the way we pay for key public services.” Amen! But along with this rethinking about paying for public services we must also rethink who has responsibility and authority to organize and administer those key public services. A topic many of us thought had been put to rest will revisit our conversations and our public deliberation: state’s rights. Oh, my!

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