NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Neither Unfunded nor Mandated

June 9, 2003

Why are states so angry with Washington? Because they want federal money with no strings attached. They've come to consider themselves entitled to the $400 billion they receive annually from Washington. They demand federal dollars, yet they bristle when Congress insists on influencing how its own money is spent, says Brian Riedl.

Consider the example of education:

  • In 1965, Washington offered money to states that volunteered to implement the federal model for educating disadvantaged children.
  • Participating states were given wide latitude to spend this money on their own education programs -- latitude states now take for granted.
  • Then, the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act required participating states to more closely align their spending with the program's federal goals.

The free lunch of Washington subsidizing states' pet education programs was over.

States may label this reassertion of federal authority over how federal money is spent an "unfunded mandate," but the No Child Left Behind Act is neither unfunded nor mandated, says Riedl. If the program's funding was insufficient to justify the increased federal meddling, states would have opted out. So far, none have.

Source: Brian Riedl, "What Unfunded Mandates?" Heritage Foundation, June 3, 2003.


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