Richard M. Nixon, General Revenue Sharing, and American Federalism
DAVID A. CAPUTO
The State and Local Fiscal Assistance Act of 1972, better known as General Revenue Sharing (GRS), provides an important historical perspective on both the presidency of Richard M. Nixon and the American federal system. General revenue sharing was hailed as a dramatically different approach to intergovernmental relations and a harbinger of future change in these relationships. While there was considerable political rhetoric about the legislation and its potential impact, once passed GRS lost its political intensity and became, albeit different, another of a long list of federal programs. What made GRS unique was its blend of formula funding and state and local discretionary spending, and its initial attempt to share federal revenues with state and local governments and then only with local governments. GRS was a popular program with state and local officials, but they were unable to prevent its termination in 1986.
There are many ways GRS can be discussed and investigated, and this is especially the case with a conference centering on the presidency of Richard M. Nixon. The approach used in this paper is to briefly discuss GRS as a concept and its legislative history, to summarize the more germane and important research investigating the program's impact, and then to discuss the program's impact on and significance for the American federal system. It is this last analysis that is most important in discussing the legacy of GRS and its possible impact on American federalism.
Before proceeding, one final point needs to be made. The discussion of GRS is likely to engender divergent viewpoints regarding any interpretation of intent or impact. The definitive history of the program and its impact must await the study of the program's termination, but the debate over its intent and short-term impact will continue. The expectation is that this analysis will help to place the discussion of GRS in a broader perspective and one that will provide a useful overview of the impact GRS has had on American federalism.