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Question for my US readers

Posted April 27, 2013 into Writing by John Birmingham

I was reading a story this morning about a movement in the US to take control of public schools away from the local government authorities and vest it in parents. Interesting enough story, with any number of intriguing political angles, but it suddenly struck me that depsite all of my writing about and research into America over the years, I have NFI what your state governments do.

The Feds? Yep, all over them. And municipal government, yeah, them too. But that's where I suddenly had my eureka moment. A lot of the stuff that your city administrators look after, like cops and schools, are the preserve of the states here. In fact the states probably deliver the bulk of end user government services that aren't stricty related to the functioning of towns and cities. And even then they deliver a whole heap of those services too, like water and electricity. (A lot of which has been privatised, admittedly.)

Still, it left me wondering, WTF do American state governments do, besides keeping the wages of waitresses at $2.15 per hour. Strikes me as something I might need to know so as not to embarass myself in print one day.

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25 Responses to ‘Question for my US readers’

Murphy puts forth...

Posted April 27, 2013

Depends on the State.

More later.

Respects,

Murph

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Mark R. Whittington ducks in to say...

Posted April 27, 2013

I can only speak for the state of Texas which, while a low tax, low spending state, has its fingers in a lot of pies. For example, states like Texas fund a lot of education and welfare programs as well as having their own law enforcement agenies. Texas has both a state police and the iconic Texas Rangers. States also administer the mostly federally funded Medicaid, a health care insurance program for the poor. Texas regulates its oil industry, has its own environmental agency, and does quite a few other things too that the federal government also does. Of course, since the current government in Austin is conservative and the one in Washington is leftist, this has caused conflict which is often settled in the courts.

Just in the way of transparency, my beloved wife works for the Division for Blind Services at the Texas Rehabilitive Commission helping people with visual impairments live independently with state assistance.

One thing you also might want to research is the concept we have of enumerated powers. According to the U.S. Constitution, all powers now spelled out in that document is reserved to the states or the people. However the federal government has often had a broad definition of what that means, setting up more conflict.

This is by necessity a very short version and I'm sure I've left a lot out. But this should give you an idea.

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Paul_Nicholas_Boylan has opinions thus...

Posted April 27, 2013

That is a simple question that prompts a very complex and lengthy answer. The deceptively simple answer is that the States are empowered to do whatever is not pre-emptec by Federal law. In California that means regulating and taxing quite a lot, whereas in states like Montana, it means doing very little. More often than not, states act in tandem with federal authorities. For example, the feds pass a law that allows for grants to states for educational purpose, but only if they match the federal funds and comply with federal guidelines pertaining to the spending of that money. States like Texas won't take federal money with those kinds of strings attached, but states like California will. The biggest area of state spending, in partnership with the federal government, is allocations for health and welfare, such as food stamps. If a state wants to give out food stamps, and they want their spending subsidized with federal tax money, then that state must organize and administer their food stamp program so as to compy with federal law and regulation.

Murphy asserts...

Posted April 27, 2013

Paul covered it better than I could.

Respects,

Murph

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Murphy mumbles...

Posted April 27, 2013

Public school boards here in the United States are controlled locally in political entities known as school districts. They have their own governing apparatus, usually a School Board, run by a Superintendent. Their funding comes from Federal, State, and local resources. In the case of local resources, it tends to be a property tax or in some cases, bonds.

Parents, particularly helicopter parents, have been degrading and eating away at Instructor Authority for decades now. Whereas once the Teacher/Instructor was a Prince in their own classroom, they are now so devalued in terms of power and authority that even the school janitor has more authority than the teachers do.

Don't believe me? I had an opportunity to bear witness to some of that at a local school district in the area recently. The end result is that the students suffer no consequences for their actions, their failures and everything is laid on the Instructor.

The mantra, often repeated by school administrator is this:

"Students don't fail, teachers do."

As for what a state government does, here is a list of duties:

1. Maintain the state roads and highways.

2. Provide law enforcement for the above.

3. Provide a National Guard (a state level successor to the original militias which can be Federalized out from under the nose of the Governor).

4. Provide some welfare services, though depending on the State that can be a great deal or it can be virtually nothing.

5. Provide a regulatory institution for education within the state which is often responsible for such things as school district accreditation and teacher certification. Additionally, they can be responsible for public school cirriculum and standards of assessment which can be tied to additional state funding.

6. Provide funding to a degree to state colleges, community colleges, technical schools and universities. These days that funding is tied to retention and completion rates, which will invariably lead to pressure from administrators to pass students, one way or the other.

7. Run the State Parks system, which in Missouri's case, is actually extensive.

8. Provide healthcare to the poor, which in Missouri's case means virtually nothing and it also means resistance to Obamacare.

I don't even think that begins to scratch the surface.

Respects,

Murph

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John Birmingham swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 27, 2013
Fascinating. There seems to be a much greater variance between the states there than there is here.

Murphy reckons...

Posted April 27, 2013

I believe there are some regional similarities. That said, state politics, state history and state government have always bored me to complete tears. I often wonder if Alexander Hamilton didn't have it right in his notion that states should be reduced to mere administrative provinces with no real power at all. He was right in that the conflict over dual sovereignty (which, among other things, led to the bloodiest war in U.S. History) would be a source of constant trouble.

When I lecture on States Rights vs Federal Power (mainly because I have to) I often use the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) as a classic example of the struggle between Federal and State Power.

That said, lest I bad mouth the States too much, it was Thomas Jefferson using the states of Kentucky and Virgnia to effectively nullify the John Adams Administration's Alien and Sedition Acts. When one party completely dominates the Federal Government, as the Federalists did in Jefferson's time, state power can be used to greater and lesser degrees to mitigate that.

You see that play out with regard to a whole host of issues today.

That said, personally, I think the public education system needs a Stalinist style purge (minus the lead) and a greater degree of uniformity than current exists today. I also think the funding model is severely dysfunctional.

Respects,

Murph

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w from brisbane reckons...

Posted April 27, 2013

From an Australian perspective, one of the most striking political differences is the number of elected government positions in the USA. Voting for a prosecutor or judge, for example, is a very different way of thinking. In Australia, that would seem like having a vote for the town plumber. Not criticising, it is just different.
I read, and it seemed reliable, that the U.S.A has over 500,000 popularly elected state, county and town officials.

w from brisbane puts forth...

Posted April 27, 2013

From the U.S. 1992 Census of Governments; 513,200 elected officials.

Government Units
There were 85,006 government units in the United
States as of January 1992. In addition to the Federal
Government and the 50 State governments, there were
84,955 units of local government. Of these, 38,978 are
general-purpose local governments—3,043 county govern-
ments, and 35,935 subcounty general-purpose govern-
ments (including 19,279 municipal governments and 16,656
town or township governments). The remainder, more than
half the total number, are special-purpose local govern-
ments, including 14,422 school district governments and
31,555 special district governments.


Elected Officials
The 85,006 governments in the United States in 1992 had 513,200 elected officials.

http://www.census.gov/prod/2/gov/gc/gc92_1_2.pdf

NBlob is gonna tell you...

Posted April 27, 2013

513,200 that'd be, like, just over half a million elected officials. You'd have to assume that most of those elections would be contested, implying >1 nominees. Many, multiple candidates. So you may have as many as an additional million wannabes. Maybe 1.5 Million total.

Australia, maybe 50k.

I think that right there is your problem. Population has reached a point where a critical mass of half-wits think they have The Answer to what ails y'all And have the moxy, the hutzpah, the cojones to put it out there. Vote 1 Me!

Still, probably a less dysfunctional mechanism than any People's Collective.

Murphy puts forth...

Posted April 28, 2013

Do you have any idea how much it costs to run for office?

Trust me, it is the province of the wealthy and the insane.

Respects,

Murph

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Matthew swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 28, 2013

NBlob, don't forget that the USA has 14 times the population of Australia.

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Murphy mutters...

Posted April 27, 2013

Oh, sometimes State Governments take over local institutions. One perfect example here in Missouri is the fact that the Kansas City Missouri Police Department is controlled by a State Board, not by local authorities. Locals do have representation on the Board but it is balanced out by others. This came about as a result of rampant Prohibition and Pendergast Political Machine Era corruption. It still persists to this day.

And sometimes the Federal Government imposes a solution on local institutions. Another example would be the attempted Desegregation of the Kansas City School District. Funds were siphoned/reallocated by Federal court order from every other school district in the State to solve very real infrastructure, salary and funding issues. The KCMOSD promptly used that money to engage in a massive building campaign to create Magnet Schools which would draw suburban kids to their district. It was riddled with corruption and worse, many of the projects constructed were beyond the means of the district to support without that reallocated money.

Eventually the State of Missouri managed to put an end to that sad chapter. Worse, it serves as a perfect example for Conservatives who like to point at KCMOSD and say, "We threw billions at that problem and it only got worse, not better. More money is not the answer."

Anyway.

Let's not even get started on law enforcement.

Respects,

Murph

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Dino not to be confused with puts forth...

Posted April 27, 2013

I am interested in this too JB.

Jekyl Island 1913? vs Ezra Pound. cf Shutter Island (the movie)

Mini Depression 1880's.

TH Castaway and 'WILSON!'

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Dino not to be confused with is gonna tell you...

Posted April 27, 2013

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/box-seat/stop-stealing-game-of-thrones-says-us-ambassador-to-australians-20130427-2ilam.html

What was the question again?

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damian mutters...

Posted April 27, 2013

It's an interesting one, isn't it. I find the contrast between the USA and Australia in this regard fascinating. I have no view on whether one is better than the other, I think there are strengths either way. Though in a general sense pushing more functions and taxes to local government does tend to favor the wealthier enclaves and disadvantage less well off areas, for obvious reasons. So I suppose that's an argument for our way, though I think in practice it's not really so clear.

I do wonder whether it occurs to Americans that their multiplicity of police forces and agencies is unusual. People here get confused enough by Cooloongatta and Tweed Heads being in different jurisdictions, and Canberra vs Queanbeyan even more so I suppose.

Matthew has opinions thus...

Posted April 28, 2013

"Though in a general sense pushing more functions and taxes to local government does tend to favor the wealthier enclaves and disadvantage less well off areas, for obvious reasons."

Not really. In Scandinavian countries (Denmark for sure, not 100% about the other ones) most things are run by local governments. I haven't seen them held up as examples of rampant inequality.

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Charles swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 27, 2013

Good discussion and details on what's I'd call a "three pint" subject. One thing I'd add is that the complexity/confusion that typifies the U.S. governmental system has been around since the very beginning. That was largely due to divisions between the need to act collectively against the British and the desire to maintain local and/or regional autonomy. This dynamic has played out time and again in everything from the Civil War to Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal to the Civil Rights movement to abortion rights to gay rights to the Affordable Care Act (Obama Care).

The issue of state authority is further complicated by how powers are meted out from the bottom up. For example, in California, law enforcement is divided between incorporated town/city police who conduct investigations/interventions/arrests for infractions of local and state laws from traffic violations to felonies, county sheriffs who oversee unincorporated areas and provide support when more serious crimes are committed, and Highway Patrol officers who focus their attentions on the state/interstate highways and freeways.

Toss in federal agencies (U.S. marshalls, the FBI, TSA, IRS and others) with various jurisdictions and policing/enforcement powers and you end up with a system rife with overlappiing jurisdictions, power plays and pissing contests.

If nothing else, it keeps things interesting.

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Murphy mutters...

Posted April 28, 2013

Local law enforcement. Yeah, about that. Why don't we just list everything in my neck of the woods.

1. KCPD (for KCMO)

2. NKCPD (for Northtown)

3. Gladstone Public Safety, a weird duck of an organization which combines police, fire and ambulance together.

4. Liberty PD.

5. Riverside PD.

6. Parkville PD.

7. Northmoor PD (literally a one cop town).

8. Metropolitan Community Colleges of Kansas City Police, a bona fided, POST certified, no bullshit, we carry guns and have our own Paddy Wagon, police department spread out to the major campuses in the region.

9. UMKC PD, a larger population but they don't have a Paddy Wagon.

10. Clay County Sheriff's Department.

11. Platte County Sheriff's Department.

12. Smithville PD.

All of that is "local" and the bulk of it aside from UMKC and MCC are located just on the NORTH side of the Missouri River. South of the River you have:

13. Independence PD, home of Harry S. Truman, and they will chase you to the ends of hell if you want to see what a real police chase is like.

14. Blue Springs PD, not worth a fuck at all, worse than KCPD.

15. Jackson County Sheriff's Department.

16. Raytown PD.

17. Grandview PD.

Then you cross the State Line over to Kansas for another batch:

18. Wyandotte County Sheriff's Department.

19. Johnson County Sheriff's Department.

20. Overland Park.

21. Lenexa

22. Olathe

At the State Level on both sides you have a Highway Patrol for each state. Then you can start to layer in all of the Federal crap. For instance, the Department of Veteran's Affairs has police officers of their own, there is the FBI and the list goes on.

All of this local control, be it school boards, police departments (remember KCPD is controlled by the state but funded by the city) and the like are designed as a check and balance against potential tyranny. It is also a sign of democracy in action I suppose. The downside is that it is ruinously inefficient in the worst possible way.

Respects,

Murph

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John Birmingham asserts...

Posted April 28, 2013
Holy shitballz Murph. Wow.

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Murphy swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 28, 2013
And I'm sure I didn't name all of them in the area either.

Respects,
Murph
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Murphy has opinions thus...

Posted April 28, 2013
Here is a partial list from wiki for Missouri and Kansas.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_law_enforcement_agencies_in_Missouri

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_law_enforcement_agencies_in_Kansas

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Abe Frellman puts forth...

Posted April 28, 2013

Based on the number of questions I get from sausage buyers around the world about federal-state fiscal relations in our country, Iwould say our federal system is quite unique and closest to Germany's. On average our states derive 50%

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Abe Frellman reckons...

Posted April 28, 2013

...of their revenue from the Feds. In fact the vertical fiscal imbalance is so large here that the reallocation across the states is all you need to deal with the horizontal imbalances across the states...unless WA gets uppity now that it loses most of the GST it collects (although it used to be a net beneficiary not long ago).

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Davosdavos is gonna tell you...

Posted April 29, 2013

State goverments run the licensing boards for professions. If you are a doctor, lawyer, you have to be licensed by the state. Heck, even hairdressers, building contractors, cosmetic consultants and a whole range do other jobs require you to have a state-issued license.

States regulate insurance companies, set premiums, regulate state chartered banks. They license businesses and regulate corporations. Want to set up a company, that's done by state governments. Some have light regulation (Nevada) while others are heavily regulated (California).

State governments do lots of regulation. There are lots of overlaps btwn the Feds and the counties. Lots of jurisdictional battles. States can make laws and require that counties implement and enforce the laws too.

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