The “free federal money” trick has a long pedigree in politics. During the 19th century, Whigs and Democrats competed for power in state government by making contrasting claims on the subject. Whigs wanted to spend more money on infrastructure projects but didn’t want to raise state taxes to do it. So they promised to secure free money from federal land sales. Democrats argued that Washington wouldn’t end up delivering on its promises and that the state would end up with expensive projects requiring the very higher taxes Whigs said they opposed.
The Democrats were right. Unfortunately, the pattern has persisted until the present day. Federal politicians offer “free” tax money to state politicians, who accept it to fund spending programs. Because federal taxpayers are also state taxpayers, this is a shell game designed to fool the suckers in the audience — who are depressingly numerous. Later, however, Washington gets in a cash bind and cuts back on federal funding. Now firmly established in state budgets, with employees and recipients highly motivated to defend them, the programs don’t go away. Instead, state legislators end up funding them out of state revenues, or pushing them down another level to trigger local tax hikes.