Published September 02. 2012 4:00AM Updated September 04. 2012 3:28PM
There is a great debate going on in this country about the role of the federal government, a dispute that has left the nation politically divided between the conservative "red states" and the traditionally more progressive "blue states."
The red state thinking appears to go that if the federal government would just get out of the way, slash federal taxes and return most of the power and responsibility for governing to the states in the spirit of the Tenth Amendment, then the free market will flourish leading to job creation, better education and a rekindling of individual responsibility.
A majority of blue state voters, on the other hand, view the federal government more positively. They see a federal role for such things as providing a social safety net for the needy, enforcing environmental regulations, providing for the public health, enforcing labor laws, guiding education, setting energy policy, responding to emergencies, husbanding parks and natural resources, and overseeing agriculture.
Elections, which are supposed to settle such disagreements, appear ineffective. The elected leaders of many of the red states refuse to approve the tax increases necessary to fund the nation's massive federal government. Blue state elected leaders stand in the way of cutting federal programs they see as vital. The result, of course, is growing and massive deficits.
I propose a solution.
Let the red states try it their way. Stop all federal funds flowing to these states and cut the federal income taxes they pay proportionally. Red state taxpayers would still be expected to help pay for the nation's defense. Military spending is one area red and blue appear to agree on.
Under such a change, red states would no longer have to worry about "big government" shipping them money to maintain roads, feed the needy, provide health care for the resourceless, or tell their state factory owners what they can dump into rivers or emit into the air. They could say good riddance to federal aid for education, money for public health initiatives and assistance to respond to natural disasters, and farewell to all the red tape, too.
Wouldn't this experiment send blue state residents fleeing to red territory? Maybe not. For you see those red states, for all their complaining about the federal government, make out pretty well under the current system. In 2006 the Tax Foundation, a non-partisan tax research group, did a fascinating report called the "Federal Tax Burdens and Expenditures by State."
It found that many of the red states get back far more in federal money than they ship to Washington in the form of federal income taxes. Sarah Palin's Alaska, for example, gets back $1.87 in federal aid for every $1 its citizens collectively pay in taxes. West Virginia gets back $1.87 per $1, ever-red North Dakota, $1.73, deep red Mississippi $1.77, Crimson Alabama $1.71, and Gov. Bobby Jindal's Louisiana a $1.43, to name a few.
Alas, true blue Connecticut gets back only 66 cents for every $1 its wage earners pay in federal income taxes, while President Obama's blue state of Illinois gets just 73 cents.
While the report has not been updated, and the numbers have certainly changed, there is nothing to indicate the ratios have. The federal taxation system shifts money from wealthier states to poorer ones. And many of the blue states are wealthier than red ones.
So, you see, if the blue states would just let those red states have their way and stop sending them that intrusive federal aid, the nation could slash the deficit and still have enough money to increase the blues' share of the federal pie.
Now, my guess is those red states would quickly slip to third-world status, with unchecked pollution, angry poor stripped of their means of subsistence, infrastructure deterioration, no help recovering when those tornadoes and hurricanes strike, and diminished education.
But I could be wrong. Maybe red state governors and legislatures would pass new state taxes to make up for the loss of that abundant federal aid, and they will provide services and protect the environment better and with greater efficiency than they did with federal help. Business and industry will sprout up and the number of poor will dwindle.
So let's find out, reds.
Paul Choiniere is editorial page editor.