States wary of taking over federal programs

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

President Reagan has pledged to hand over the reins to a variety of federal programs to the states. And, like prospective horse traders, the 50 state governors will travel to Washington to see if the programmatic beasts they will inherit have the muscle, the teeth, and sufficient tether to make the deal worthwhile.

While in general agreement with the President's goal of strengthening the federal system, the governors are apprehensive as to what the future roles and responsibilities of various levels of government might be.

The 27 Democratic and 23 Republican state chief executives not only seek less red tape from the federal bureaucracy but also greater authority to deal with domestic problems. They are scheduled to meet with the President and some of his top aides during the Feb. 22-24 winter meeting of the National Governors Association (NGA).

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The conference will focus on how states can make better use of their own resources. It will open four days after the President delivers his economic proposals to Congress and two weeks before he submits his revised proposals for the fiscal 1982 budget.

Although sympathetic with the Reagan determination to control spending, the governors -- several of whom met with him Feb. 10 -- are concerned that some cutbacks, such as those planned for medicaid, would be too sharp.

Greater flexibility for states in administering various programs is a must, as the governors view it, especially in those activities where a greater portion of the cost is to be shifted from Washington to the individual states.

Several states, including Massachusetts, already are seeking federal permission to impose certain restrictions in medicaid eligibility within their boundaries.

During their coming White House meeting and convention sessions with Reagan Cabinet members and other top presidential aides, the governors also are likely to press for funds for highways and mass transportation, as well as block grants with fewer strings attached for social service and educational programs.

Other concerns of the governors to be discussed, if not at least partially resolved, include the state-federal role in improving the criminal justice system, crowding at state correctional institutions, hazardous waste control, coal conversion opportunites, energy assistance for the needy, foreign trade policies, and farm legislation.

Key administration policy-shapers slated to meet with the state chief executives include David A. Stockman, director of the Office of Management and Budget, Transportation Secretary Drew L. Lewis Jr., Health and Human Services Secretary Richard S. Schweiker, Agriculture Secretary John Block, Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige, Attorney General William French Smith, federal highway administrator Ray Barnhart, and presidential co unselor Edwin S. Meese III.

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