Why Does The Federal Government Extort The States?

Here in Pennsylvania we just lowered the DUI level to .08, in order to comply with federal regulations. If we had refused, then the federal government would have pulled some of the money for our highway improvements and social programs. So we didn’t really have a reasonable choice in the matter.

This same type of thing happened when the federal government required all states to raise the legal drinking age to 21. The same threat was given then, too. If the state chooses not to comply, then the federal government will pull funding for highway maintenance and social programs. The last state to hold out was Louisiana, but they too eventually complied.

The name of the country that I live in is called the United States of America. I am a big fan of States’ Rights.

What presidential administration or period of time in US history did so much power get usurped from the States by the US government?

What actions, in your opinion, could the States take to shift the power back to the States?

These are not rhetorical questions. I’m truly looking for facts and opinions on this matter.

It’s federal money, and the federal government can decide what the requirments are for getting that money. Why do you make the assumption your state is “owed” the funds?

Well, it’s not like the State’s are OWED federal money. That ain’t the way it works.

And short of a Governor (or set thereof) withholding federal taxes and making it stick I don’t see a means of changing it.

The Civil War was fought not over slavery…but states right…the states felt they had the right to leave the Union…they did not.

Before the constitution that frames this nation we had “The Articles of Confederacy” this never worked because it favored states over The Federal Government.

The USA is a balanced government…If you give the states more say then the Fed government you will have a weak nation…While you can improve on the people you elect to office…you can not change what in essence is the best system created by man (and inspired by God)

For good reading, read David Thoreau’s (spelling) essay…“A Civil Disobedience”

Actually it was the Articles of Confederation…my mistake

Because the funds that the federal government is threatening to withold originally came from the taxes of the citizens of this state. They are threatening to withold our own money from us.

My point is, I’m sure that my tax dollars go farther at the state level than the federal level, after factoring in the beaurocracy costs. If a certain amount less in federal taxes were paid by Pennsylvania residents, and that same money was sent to the state government, I’m sure that Pennsylvania could pay for our own road repair and social programs.

But what can be done locally, realistically, to combat this extortion? I say realistically, because Governer Rendell is not going to refuse the federal government. Bush would send the National Guard in.

Also, if my state doesn’t bow to pressure from the federal government, and the government witholds those funds, then they will be rerouted to the highway department of, say, Arizona. Why should my tax dollars go towards the highways of a state that I have never been in, just because I decided that I didn’t like a particular federal mandate?

The problem here is the lack of options and choices that the states are given.

States should vote as states, and bear more of their own responsibility, mostly because there are region differences between states and their needs.

So what you’re arguing isn’t that the federal government shouldn’t get involved in things like highway funding or social programs at all?

I’m sure there are many examples where the Feds step in to override State law and threaten them with withholding federal funds or other legal actions. One that stands out with me was many years back, when the federal government threatened each state to comply with the 55mph speed limit or it would withhold federal funds from each state that didn‘t. Nowadays, the feds let each state once again impose it’s own highway speed limits. States that have legalized medical marijuana, have been having some trouble with the Feds as well. Ask Ed Rosenthal about that.


For the same reason my tax dollars are spent on highways and social programs in Pennsylvania, a state I have never been in. Besides, you do have a say in how your federal tax dollars are spent; that’s what your senators and congressmen are for. Did they vote against this legislation? I doubt it, therefore the threat of withholding highway funds is entirely appropriate. Even if they had voted against it, you are still bound by the laws of the land. Last I heard, Pennsylvania is not a sovereign republic.


This has the thin veneer of being a strawman. But for the most part, the answer to this question is “Yes.”

I don’t know what the exact equation is that the federal government uses to determine how much money each state gets for their highways, but I’m sure it involves the number of miles of road, the number of tax paying citizens, and the number of automobiles in that state. For each state you will come up with a different number. Each state is different in size, population, and geography.

FEMA is another example. All of our money goes into FEMA, but it gets dished out disproportionately. South Carolina and Florida have probably received the most financial aid from hurricanes. California has probably received the most financial aid for earthquakes. Pennsylvania has had their fair share of debilitating snow storms. Since each state suffers from their own unique natural problems, why dish out the money from the federal level? Each state knows the best way to prepare and clean up after their own type of natural disaster. The federal government should not collect as much taxes as they do, and the states should collect more.

Then why bother with the vote if it doesn’t matter? The land that I reside in is 100% Pennsylvania, but 2% of the US. Why do federal laws automatically trump state laws, and why is the federal government allowed to punish states for not ratifying something that the federal government wants? The state has its own government that works towards the benefits of its own citizens.

In other words, where in history did the responsibility for maintenance of the highway system fall under federal jurisdiction? And why is the federal government allowed to use this as leverage for extortion?

This is kind of my point.

The Supremacy Clause of the Constitution of the United States of America

So what is the debate? That Pennsylvania is entitled to federal highway funds even though you disapprove of the new DUI law, or that states should not receive federal funding for state programs?

Enlighten me.


Supremacy Clause of the Constitution of the United States of America

Article VI.

His point likely is that the federal government makes laws that it has no need to make (as they are already covered by the states), then forces state governments to abide by said laws or forfeit money that shouldn’t be forfeit.

These laws are often Very Silly, often have no impact on the country as a whole, and have no reason for existing.

States were forced to adopt seatbelt laws, drug laws, speed limits, blood alcohol levels, and (if I remember correctly) MLK, Jr. day–things that really don’t seem to have much to do with any Constitutionally granted rights of the Feds. Yet states are able to set their own laws for things that would seem to have more to do with the Feds, like gun laws.

Why does it appear to be so important to the Federal government that we all wear seatbelts when it isn’t a Federal law that we all wear helmets (at least, the last time I paid attention)?


The general rationale is that Congress has the power to tax and spend for the general welfare. If it wants, it can give money to state governments and make some of it contingent on the state passing certain legislation, but because Congress is attempting to do with their left hand what it can’t do with its left, there are certain constitutional safeguards it has to follow. First, there has to be some relation between the purpose of the funds and the desired legislation; f’rinstance, highway funds and the 21 drinking age are connected because Congress wants to reduce highway fatalities due to teenage drinking. Second, the amount contingent can’t be so great as to be coercive; usually 5% of the funds are contingent on the state passing the legislation. The state is still free to not pass the legislation, it just gets slightly less money if it does so. States almost never turn down the extra money.

The answer to all your questions is spelled out twice a month on your LES. Federal taxes and state taxes are two completely different things. Washington is under no circumstances obligated to bail out Pennsylvania, any more than Fast Eddie has to send bailout money to Washington. It’s your money, sure, but they go to completely different things.

For that matter, why do smaller states subsidize our state? I can guarantee you it doesn’t cost nearly as much to maintain the infrastructure of, say, Rhode Island as it does to maintain Pennsylvania’s. Therefore, the Federal funds are actually a drain on smaller states, since they don’t get nearly the subsidies that PA does, if only because there’s less to subsidize, and yet their tax rates remain the same as ours.

All in all, .08 is a very small price to pay, since it should really be lower if you ask me.

Oh, and the National Guard comment? :rolleyes: If Rendell defied the Federal government, he’d just have to find the money somewhere else. The price of continued subsidies is compliance. That compliance is most definitely NOT enforced by the National Guard, especially since it’s voluntary to begin with.

Well, to the OP, I tend to agree with you. Personally I dont think its as cut and dried as many here seem to think.

I mean, the Fed gov is obligated to do these things, not the states. The Fed highway system was built under the aegis of national civil defense. Defense is an obligation of the Feds, its not something they can ignore because a state wont cooperate with them.

Same thing with any Fed social programs; the Fed gov, unless Im mistaken, does not have the choice of not implementing them. Id love the Feds to go to court and say “well we didnt pay this money to this state for these social programs because they wouldnt lower their legal drunk driving limit like we wanted them to”. That wold be hilarious.

Im waiting for the day when a state just up and says, well screw you then. Keep the money, and we’ll take you to court for not carrying out your obligations.

Id love to see a state call the Feds bluff.

As far as the Consitutional law of the land argument, that only applies to laws that the Fed has authority to make. The Fed gov doesnt have the authority to set voting ages, drinking ages, driving laws etc, and so it resorts to what is in effect blackmail instead.

Yes, we have a balance of powers in the country, but right now the balance has swung too far one way, and I look forward to the day it starts swinging back.

And no, its not the fed govs money, and no it cant do with it what it wants. Thats just plain insane.


Thank you for voicing your support. I makes me feel good to see that someone else is recognizing this problem.

In my opinion, the only way to shift some of the power back to the states is for the Govenors to start saying, “No. Keep your damn 12 million dollars. I don’t care if it is for a good cause such as lowering the DUI limit. It is about the principle. We’ll lower it ourselves when we want to.” The only problem is that this issue never comes up at the annual Governor’s convention. The first Pennsylvanian who proposes such a move will get my vote for Governor.

We are not getting our moneys’ worth from the federal government, it’s just too inefficient. Let them fund the military and welfare. That’s it. Shifting more responsibility to the states would just plain be more efficient, in my view. As a citizen of Pennsylvania, I just don’t know how to practice this locally.

Oh, the National Guard comment. I was being very flip. I’m actually a USMC veteran, by the way.