Governor: balance of power between states, federal government essential

“Signing of the Constitution” by Thomas P. Rossiter

Editor’s note: This post was authored by Gov. Gary R. Herbert, 2015-2016 Chair of the National Governors Association, and was originally published in the The Washington Times, Tues., Sep. 8, 2015. It is being shared today in honor of the 226th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution.

In 1788, James Madison wrote in Federalist 45: “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.”

This concept of federalism has eroded even as states are leading this nation forward. While partisan politics can often stall work in Washington, D.C., states must push ahead and solve problems to ensure the future for our citizens.

As governors, we have an historic opportunity to build a more collaborative state-federal partnership, just as our founding fathers intended when they wrote the tenth amendment: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Governors have long held that federal action should be limited to those duties and powers delegated to the federal government under the Constitution. Congress should favor the preservation of state sovereignty when legislating or regulating activity in the states.

In fact, to ensure the proper balance between state and federal action and to promote a strong and cooperative state-federal relationship, governors encourage federal officials to adhere to certain principles that follow directly from the idea of a limited federal government.

First, Congress and the Administration should exercise forbearance. Federal action should be limited to situations in which constitutional authority for action is clear and certain and where the problems are truly national in scope.

Second, unless the national interest is at risk, federal action should not preempt additional state action. This is especially true in areas of primary state responsibility.

U.S. Constitution

Third, Congress and the Administration must avoid imposing unfunded federal mandates. Federal action increasingly has relied on states to carry out policy initiatives without providing necessary funding to pay for these programs. The imposition of unfunded federal mandates is inconsistent with the vision of James Madison and the spirit of a genuine partnership.

Governors recognize the unique nature of the federal system and the critical importance of developing a close working relationship between states and the federal government. We also recognize and support a continued federal role in protecting the basic rights of all our citizens and in addressing issues beyond the capacity of individual states. At the same time, the federal government must recognize that there are problems that can be best addressed at the state and local levels.

Governors from across the political spectrum and the country are working to improve the way government operates, putting policies in place that better the lives of people in this country. When I became chair of the National Governors Association (NGA), I made it my mission to highlight those efforts.

My chair’s initiative, States: Finding Solutions, Improving Lives is about finding and highlighting real solutions to the issues we face every day. It’s time to start looking to the real innovators—states—our laboratories of democracy. My work this year will showcase the breakthroughs happening in the 55 states, territories and commonwealths. The goal: Promote and share the best state-based solutions and show Washington, D.C., how it’s done.

My colleagues in other states have implemented solutions that are innovative, relevant and good for the public. Between now and next summer, I will meet with several experts across state government, and I will visit states across the country to highlight the innovative work governors are doing each and every day. I will make sure this work is shared widely so all levels of government can benefit from the innovation of the states.

Making people’s lives better is not a partisan issue. At a time when it’s difficult to turn on the TV without seeing red versus blue, left versus right, states on both sides of the aisle are developing innovative answers to some of today’s most pressing problems. That is why States: Finding Solutions, Improving Lives stands as a beacon of bipartisanship amid political rancor.

This is not about ideology; it’s about results. Not only are states solving problems in the present, but we will need them to solve problems in the future, too. To ensure that success, we need to learn from one another’s challenges and accomplishments.

Let me be clear: Some issues must be addressed at the national level. But developing solutions to others such as transportation, education, health care, economic development and public safety often rests with the states. Furthermore, federal agencies often are not equipped, nimble or flexible enough to deal with problems at the state and local levels. In fact, most “federal” programs are implemented by the states.

Just look at the federal and state budgets. In 2014, the federal budget was roughly $3.5 trillion, which is about three times as large as the $1.2 trillion approximate total of all 50 state budgets combined.

A balance of power between the states and the federal government is not only right and proper, it is essential if we are ever to find solutions to the complex problems we face as Americans. It is my hope that States: Finding Solutions, Improving Lives is a critical step toward moving this country forward consistent with the vision of our founding document.