Cities, Counties, States Partners

Each year, the federal government attaches strings to nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars and gives it to state and local governments.(5) The strings that are attached make the state and local governments go through strange motions that frustrate citizens and state and local governments alike.

Tillamook County, Oregon, is on the end of some of those strings. The head of their health department, Sue Cameron, gives some good examples of the motions they go through. "We get federal money to immunize kids. That's a great idea, but it's not that simple. There are six different kinds of federal immunization money. One kind is for diphtheria. Another is for hepatitis-B, but only for teenagers. There's a different one for hepatitis-B for infants. Not a different shot -- just different money. But that's not all. For the best protection, babies should get their first shots within two weeks of the day they're born, and most babies are born in hospitals. So, common sense tells you to have the hospital nurses give the shot while the babies are there. But before President Clinton launched the Vaccine for Children' program, the shots had to be given in public or private health clinics. That rule had kept some babies from ever getting their shots.

"And the bookkeeping! With each different kind of money for each different kind of thing -- not just the different kinds of immunization, but nutrition programs, mental health, teen pregnancy, and so on -- we have to keep separate records. That means that everybody who works here -- from the receptionist to the doctor -- is keeping track of which federal program they work on each minute to fill out time sheets for Washington."

Ask around Washington about all that red tape and it becomes clear that all the programs and all the rules are based on good intentions. All the strings were attached for good reasons. This is true; everybody in Washington is trying to achieve good government. But, as Gandhi said, "Good government is no substitute for self government." Somehow, we have to give government back to the people.

So how about having the feds cut all the strings and just hand money over in block grants? Mayor Rendell said the result would be too little freedom and way too little money. Here is what another potential recipient of block grants says. He is Jono Hildner, and he is the essence of Oregon -- tall, fit, and outdoorsy, he runs wild rivers for fun. He also runs everything from public housing to the dog pound in Clackamas County, Oregon. Never heard of Clackamas County? In the 1800s it was the end of the Oregon Trail. Today, it is the beginning of Christmas -- the nation's most prolific producer of Christmas trees. "Block grants are tempting," Jono says, "but I don't think the feds should just leave the money on a stump for us. I've seen that tried before. The money disappears and you're never sure what you got for it."

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