This past Friday, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called for the federal government to bail out the taxpayers of his state to the tune of some $6.9 billion. The request comes amid efforts to close a $19.9 billion gap in his proposed $82.9 billion 2010-2011 fiscal budget. We hear daily news stories of governors all over the United States struggling to close similar gaping holes in their states’ budgets. By what rationale is California more deserving than others? Schwarzenegger argues his case on two fronts. First, he points out that Californians pay far more in federal taxes than they ever receive in federal disbursements. Second, he suggests that the burden of complying with unfunded federal mandates is one of the chief culprits bankrupting his state. Let’s take each of these arguments in turn.
Schwarzenegger suggests that there should be some measure of parity between the amount that Californians pay to support the federal government and the quantity of services or federal funding they receive in return. He might have a legitimate complaint on this score, if only we were still governed by the same constitutional provisions written in 1787 and ratified in 1791. The Founders understood, and concurred with Schwarzenegger, that the several independent, sovereign states should not be disproportionately burdened with the responsibility of funding the operation of the federal government. To protect against this, the apportionment clause (Article I, Section 2) was written to ensure that each state share the responsibility of providing for those federal activities enumerated in the Constitution, in direct proportion to the number of citizens residing in each state.
It is gratifying to see Schwarzenegger arrive at the Founders’ view of budgetary fairness some 219 years after the fact, but his argument comes 108 years too late.