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Politics The coming invasion by the federal government

06:40  14 may  2021
06:40  14 may  2021 Source:   washingtonexaminer.com

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Woodrow Wilson, in his pre-presidential role as a political scientist and professor, observed that, in the United States, Washington does not govern local communities. Rather, “they govern themselves.” Historically, local municipalities and school boards have raised and spent funds procured through local taxes in response to the needs and preferences of local voters. In a true Tocquevillian sense, the empowerment of American localities has been intrinsically more participative, from funding infrastructure to school boards to zoning changes.

FEA.Federal.jpg © Provided by Washington Examiner FEA.Federal.jpg

Democrats are now set on changing the balance of power between Pennsylvania Avenue and Main Street through legislation and regulation.

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In recent years, not only has the size of the federal government increased, but its reach is now extending into municipalities and other local spheres to influence their activity. Federal assistance to cities and states has traditionally helped fulfill their core functions, but Democrats today are going further. They are starting to use federal infrastructure and community development funds as levers to change local regulations deemed flawed and discriminatory. These include policies aimed at solving housing shortage problems and racial segregation.

While one can agree with some of the goals of such initiatives, there is still grave reason for concern about the strings being attached to these federal grants. One can think of the idea of these new-era “contingent” grants as a sort of “disparate impact-based approach” to federal grant-making, premised on the idea that select local policies can be linked to the problems of poverty (especially local land use planning), and therefore a wide range of local services should be adjusted to solve that problem.

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Examples of this approach abound. In 2019, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn proposed the Housing, Opportunity, Mobility, and Equity Act, which would use transportation funding to push “communities to adopt more inclusive zoning laws by making their surface transportation funding and community development block grants contingent on such zoning policies.” This legislation makes clear how ambitious Booker is in his view of how Washington should influence local policy. A similar bill, the Yes in My Backyard Act, passed the Democratic House last year.

“This is personal for me,” explained Booker. “Housing impacts where you go to school, what grocery stores or bodegas you buy food from, and what parks you can play at, among many other things. It is a foundational rung in the ladder of economic opportunity, and we have to ensure all kids and families have equal access to clean, safe neighborhoods.” In other words, the federal government has an interest in all the services he cites. One can share Sen. Booker’s view, that restrictive zoning inhibits housing construction, without believing in his approach. Washington would make local recipients dance to its tune. And the trend lines in recent years have been stark.

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A May 2019 Congressional Research Service report shows that “total outlays for federal grants to state and local governments have generally increased since the 1960s. However, the magnitude of those increases has varied over the years. For example, outlays for federal grants to state and local governments increased, in nominal dollars, 187.3% during the 1960s, 246.4% during the 1970s, 33.4% during the 1980s, 98.0% during the 1990s, and 98.6% during the first decade of the 2000s.”

This huge departure from historic practice is detailed in the report. The growth is impressive, from just $7 billion in 1960 to $749 billion in 2019. And the share of total federal outlays going to state and local governments has similarly ballooned. In 1960, 7.6% of total federal outlays went to state and local governments. In 2019, that number crept up to 16.5%, with little fluctuation since the mid-2000s. Health spending such as Medicaid accounts for, by far, the largest share (more than 60%), but grants for education and social services, transportation, and community development are all also significant. The report notes, tellingly, that of the six major types of federal state and local grants, four come with a “low range of recipient discretion.”

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The report notes that such grants have been increasing, beginning with the Great Society era that coincided with the growth of “coercive federal grants.” In other words, some of the farthest-reaching federal grants allow the least degree of state and local flexibility.

Think here of making federal highway funding contingent on adopting a 55-miles-per-hour speed limit. Federal education aid, which is distributed to 55,000 local public school systems, was the basis for the nationwide testing regime ushered by the No Child Left Behind Act. No school system, of course, is required to seek such aid, but those that do are subject to its rules.

It is just such coercion, ramped up further into influencing basic local services, that progressives are now calling for. Some are already underway. Exhibit No. 1 are Housing and Urban Development’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing regulations. These were first developed by the Obama administration, then dumped by the Trump administration, and are due to be reimplemented by Biden HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge. AFFH can be used to tie federal community development funds to what Washington views as the best ways to limit housing discrimination by race. Again, no community needs to seek such funds, but the offer is among the largest pots of federal money, conceived as a way for poorer communities to make up for lower property tax bases. The Obama administration viewed the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which bans housing discrimination based on race, as inadequate. The goal was to push communities to interpret “non-discrimination” as building subsidized (“affordable”) housing. But HUD’s bureaucrats went much further in their intrusions on local government.

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As I’ve noted previously, documents made public as a result of legal action showed an Obama administration willing to inject HUD influence into almost any area of local affairs, based on the broadest possible interpretations of fair housing — much in the same way Booker wants to use the even larger pot of federal “infrastructure” funding. Take how HUD uses its so-called “denial letters,” which are communications with local governments informing them that they had failed to pass fair-housing muster. When a Georgia county told HUD it thought its affordable housing would help low-income residents get jobs, Barack Obama’s HUD said not enough was being done to address “racial/ethnic concentrations.” Another county was told it needed to take steps to change its image, to be more welcoming to diverse populations (“perception in the broader metro area”). HUD suggested, as well, that school district lines might be redrawn to improve student achievement.

There was, in other words, no obvious limiting principle at work.

HUD is not the local school board, which is directly responsible to local voters, including parents of schoolchildren. Yet the department has even ventured to include its bureaucrats’ views on “school enrollment policies” in the category of “disparities to access to opportunities,” as was the case with one North Carolina city.

As I’ve written in City Journal, this social engineering approach essentially amounted to “housing as busing.”

“The Obama-era HUD’s focus was on changing the core tenets of American housing: that neighborhoods organize themselves around residents with similar levels of income and education. Rather than using community-development funds as once intended — to ensure that all neighborhoods get high-quality public services — HUD pushed one California city to ‘overcome segregation by providing housing choices in higher-opportunity areas where protected classes are less likely to live.’ This is a dispiriting world view to reinforce — that only wealthy American neighborhoods can offer opportunity.”

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Paired with HUD’s overreach was the bureaucratic complexity of its reporting mandates. Hundreds of small and midsize municipalities that were required to show progress complying with the AFFH regulations were also asked to use the “SMART system for setting goals and metrics and milestones.” SMART stands for “Specific, Measurable, Action Oriented, Realistic and Time Bound.” As I noted back in 2019, “One can only pity small-city mayors or city managers forced to divert staff to such matters while the demands of local voters pile up. The Obama HUD used its fair-housing policy as a powerful stick. It denied no less than 63% of all local submissions, in the process holding up federal funds local governments relied on. Nor was it easy to get even a passing grade. The typical submission ran more than 200 pages; the city of Philadelphia’s exceeded 800 pages.”

This sort of overreach is exactly what the Biden administration will now bring back. It demonstrates one of the essential perils of such federal grants: Washington’s interpretation of compliance can be highly expansive and disconnected to the wants that local communities are best positioned to determine. One can hope, as I very much do, that local zoning regulations become generally more expansive, to permit (as Sen. Booker says, too) more duplex and triplex houses and small apartments. But that’s quite a different thing than expansive federal mandates predicated on the idea that simply taking up residence in a somewhat higher income area will change the lives of those affected — or that a general “deconcentration” of all of America’s poor is practical or desirable.

The point here goes beyond housing policy: It’s about the strings attached to coercive federal aid, which touch more and more core local services. And there doesn’t seem to be a limit.

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Consider an April public hearing held by the Senate Banking Committee, which was supposedly focused on the history of U.S. housing discrimination and the efforts to mitigate its residual effects. That didn’t stop Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen from focusing on the 2015 decision by Larry Hogan, Maryland’s Republican governor, to cancel a $1 billion-per-mile rail and tunnel system meant to link Baltimore and its suburbs and substitute it instead with less costly bus rapid transit. Said Van Hollen, “Policies that are, on their face, ‘race neutral,’ may actually be racially discriminatory.”

It may well be that the Baltimore Red Line will be built, now that a tsunami of federal infrastructure money is cresting. That’s up to elected officials, as it should be. But it’s important not to pass over Van Hollen’s argument, which implies that almost any state or local decision can be framed in racial terms, and judged discriminatory. Because black Baltimore neighborhoods were to be served by buses rather than rail, the Red Line decision had what many would term a negative “disparate impact” on them. By this logic, lawmakers can connect almost any undesirable condition affecting minority residents to almost any state or local decision and challenge it. We could be on the verge of a disparate income argument on steroids that would lead to Washington overseeing, and challenging, a wide range of local policies.

For his part, Gov. Hogan dismissed the Red Line as a “boondoggle,” and the history of passenger levels on federally funded light rail systems provides him with plenty of reasons for that view (especially in an era in which municipalities are contracting with Uber-type services to provide convenient public transportation).

Progressives want to go even further. A new report by the Century Foundation specifically urges “disparate impact” litigation under the Fair Housing Act to target exclusionary zoning said to disadvantage minorities disproportionately. It endorses a “private right of action” to throw such interpretation to the court, effectively putting a wide range of local decisions in the crosshairs of the courts. (To its credit, the report also suggests that HUD develop a “model,” less-restrictive zoning code that it would suggest municipalities consider. This sort of persuasion, not coercion, is a far better approach.)

More and more coercive federal grant-making risks bureaucratizing local government. But, most of all, it risks dragging what is now the most popular level of American government (local communities) into the same popularity swamp as that of Washington. According to the Pew Research Center, public favorability of state government is markedly higher than that of the federal government, and favorable views of state and local governments are shared across party lines.

Note carefully: Both Democrats and Republicans have a favorable view of their local governments. They may be broken in some ways, but Washington-based fixes will make matters worse.

Howard Husock is an adjunct scholar in domestic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, where he focuses on local government, civil society, and urban housing policy. He is concurrently an executive senior fellow with the Philanthropy Roundtable.

Tags: Congress, White House, Big Government, Spending, Democratic Party, Joe Biden

Original Author: Howard Husock

Original Location: The coming invasion by the federal government

Cooks, nurses guard inmates with US prisons down 6K officers .
Nearly one-third of federal correctional officer jobs in the United States are vacant, forcing prisons to use cooks, teachers, nurses and other workers to guard inmates. At a federal penitentiary in Texas, prisoners are locked in their cells on weekends because there are not enough guards to watch them. Elsewhere in the system, fights are breaking out, several inmates have escaped in recent months and, in Illinois, at one of the most understaffed prisons in the country, five inmates have died in homicides or suicides since March 2020.

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