The Interaction of State and Local Governments
Russell L. Hanson
State and local governments have always been important in American politics. Even when the national government assumed a leading role in domestic policymaking during the 1960s and 1970s it did not act on its own, except in the area of civil rights. Instead, Congress and the president pursued their objectives through grants-in-aid, which created powerful incentives for state and local governments to expand the range of goods and services they provided to citizens. Hence, many "national" policies actually involved a partnership of national, state, and local governments. The national government was undoubtedly the senior partner in these programs, but state and local governments enjoyed policymaking powers, too. They were not silent partners so much as they were powerful members of the board of directors advising the CEO.
Indeed, that is precisely why critics of "big government" want to return policymaking responsibilities to states and localities. Devolution is attractive only if state and local governments are capable of exercising power effectively and fairly. This capacity varies from state to state and from place to place within states. Nevertheless, there has been a general increase in the political, administrative, and financial capacity of subnational governments in the United States over the past three decades. This process of development was originally spurred by grants from the national government, but it now has considerable momentum of its own. In fact, state and local governments, are at the forefront of efforts to "reinvent government" in the 1990s.
We will soon know if the development of state and local governments is self-sustaining because financial problems are causing the national government to limit its role in domestic policymaking. The social responsi