The 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution never has been amended or revoked: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
However, this brief and powerful declaration has been rendered almost meaningless as Congress and the federal bureaucracy seem able to reach into every nook and cranny of our lives. There are many reasons for this, but one of the most important is the addiction of states to federal tax dollars.
Congress frequently offers million of dollars to entice state governments to carry out new policies. Over time, states have become completely dependent on these cash transfers and wouldn’t know how to operate without them. Earlier this year, the governor and the Legislature debated for months on how to use $10.6 billion in state taxes. In truth, the state will spend more than $26 billion this fiscal year, with nearly $12.9 billion coming from the federal government.
With the states hooked, the federal government now can dictate almost anything and the states generally go along to keep the money spigot flowing. Arizona wants its $500 million in federal highway dollars? Then the state must have a mandatory seat belt law. Arizona can’t get by without $40 million in federal funds that makes up two-thirds of its child enforcement budget? Then the state had better turn over employment records and other “private” information about its residents.
Only rarely does a politician step forward to defend the principle of federalism enshrined in the 10th Amendment and point out that states have ceded too much to Washington for this cash. One of those occasions happened last week when Sen. Karen Johnson, R-Mesa, suggested Arizona ignore a federal mandate to participate in a national sex offender registration program.
In 2006, Congress passed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act to require all states join the national database and to dictate how every state provide key details to the public. It just so happens the federal law conflicts with changes made earlier this year by the Arizona Legislature to treat some underage sexual offenders differently than adults.
State lawmakers recognized that lifetime registration and probation requirements were unduly harsh when applied to juvenile, immature experimentation. In some cases, juveniles were forced to receive “counseling” alongside adults in a manner more likely to turn the teens into predators themselves.
The 10th Amendment says states should decide on their own how or when to join a national registration program. But the Adam Walsh act threatens to take away federal money for combating drug smugglers if states don’t follow the federal rules. For Arizona, that would amount to more than $1 million if we don’t comply by July.
Johnson fought long to get her colleagues to look beyond their natural disgust for sex offenders to see some juvenile cases in a different light. She doesn’t want that hard work to be undermined by a inflexible federal law.
We have disagreed with some of Johnson’s stances on other issues related to questions of federalism. But we wish her well this time as she tries to convince other state officials to walk away from the federal money pushers.