by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
A former boss of mine used to have a matter-of-fact saying about one’s employment: “If you don’t like the working conditions, don’t take the check.”
Some states have rediscovered the wisdom of that axiom regarding their relationships with Washington. Their willingness to refuse Washington’s checks has prompted the latest round of media pearl-clutching.
But states are only acting in ways they should have been long ago. Conservatives have finally come to realize that the federal government’s dollars come with powerful strings attached. Questioning the use of federal dollars will serve to reduce the influence of Washington — and the permanent administrative state residing in the nation’s capital — in the affairs of these states and the lives of their citizens.
A recent AP story analyzed the Volunteer State’s willingness to reject federal funding for HIV prevention and family planning. Tennessee rejected the funds because they would likely go to organizations like Planned Parenthood that provide or refer for abortion. State lawmakers have also discussed foregoing federal education dollars due to Washington’s policies on parental rights and related issues.
The Republican speaker of the state house, Cameron Sexton, explained the thinking. “We should do everything that we can to be whole and autonomous and independent from the federal government,” he said. “When you take federal government money, their philosophies and what they want you to do is different than probably what the state wants to do.”
It amounts to Washington’s version of the Golden Rule: “He who has the gold makes the rules.”
If red-state lawmakers like Sexton don’t enjoy being bossed around by federal bureaucrats that don’t share the same priorities, philosophy, or agenda — and they shouldn’t — then they shouldn’t even consider taking federal money that will come with strings attached.