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States and Localities as Self Sufficient Entities: The Argument for Symbolic Dependence and Money as Moral Value

“THE PRESIDENT’S TWENTY-EIGHTEEN BUDGET ALSO CONTINUES TO PROVIDE RENTAL ASSISTANCE…WHILE RECOGNIZING A GREATER ROLE FOR STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENTS AND THE PRIVATE SECTOR TO ADDRESS COMMUNITY AND ECONOMIC NEEDS.” 

This is a quote from Secretary Ben Carson’s testimony for the fiscal year 2018 HUD budget allocation. This stance taken by the administration is not unheard of- the concept of communities as self sufficient entities. For clarification, localities are creatures of the state, there are no references to local governments in the United States constitution. So to some extent, yes, what happens in localities is best taken care of by states. But to stop there is to ignore another side of federal budgeting:

IT’S NOT ONLY ABOUT THE PHYSICAL ALLOCATION OF MONEY, IT’S WHAT THEY SYMBOLICALLY REPRESENT, WHAT VALUES THEY PROJECT.

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These twelve categories represent the twelve most generalized classifications of programs the federal government is willing to allocate funds towards. These priority differences are not uncharacteristic of republican/democrat values, however, this is not the point. The point is not the numbers themselves, it is the values behind the numbers. When the economy was in poor shape, the Obama administration focused on unemployment and housing. When an administration is catering to the fear of terrorism and illegal immigration, military and infrastructure expenditures skyrocket. When the federal government imprints their values onto the fiscal discretionary budget, these values trickle down to state governments simply due to the category allocation for state budgets, which then trickle down to localities.

So, let’s go back to that statement.

“THE PRESIDENT’S TWENTY-EIGHTEEN BUDGET ALSO CONTINUES TO PROVIDE RENTAL ASSISTANCE…WHILE RECOGNIZING A GREATER ROLE FOR STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENTS AND THE PRIVATE SECTOR TO ADDRESS COMMUNITY AND ECONOMIC NEEDS.”

Whether or not one believes that the federal government should have a minimal role in community development funding, the truth of the matter is, the federal government will always have a role, whether or not funding is provided. For example, when considering HUD funding cuts, if there is no allocation for Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), it becomes increasingly difficult of states and localities to prioritize their individual values and goals for community development. It goes without saying that states themselves have their own funding sources separate from the federal budget. However, when considering the hundreds of other expensive projects states face such as infrastructure, welfare programs, or education funding- the tighter a budget becomes, the less marginalized groups are prioritized.

IF THE NATIONAL GOVERNMENT IS NOT PROTECTING MARGINALIZED MEMBERS OF SOCIETY, WHAT DOES IT SAY ABOUT THE VALUES OF OUR NATION AS A WHOLE?

States prioritize their values through a variety of ways, many times through the process of nullification (a legal theory that states that states have the right to invalidate any federal law that the state deems unconstitutional). However, there is no such protection for federal budget cuts, leaving states and localities scrambling for solutions, thus re-prioritizing their values in the most utilitarian way possible.

STATES CANNOT FULLY EXPRESS THEIR FINANCIAL VALUES AND PRIORITIES WHEN THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT IMPOSES THEIRS IN SUCH DRASTIC WAYS.

This argument is not to say that federal funding allocation does not consider the needs of the American people. However, it begs the question, how do we provide for communities who are trapped in an outdated structure of planning tactics and policies? There must be a middle ground of federal support for community development, one that does not look at mere instances of block grants being utilized for flowers on the highway, rather the national impact they’ve made, and the national values they represent.

Ellie Muraca