State legislators urge White House to get New Federalism act together
Chicago — America's state lawmakers - Democrats and Republicans alike - are growing concerned about prospects for the New Federalism.
While many still support the concept of shifting certain responsibilities between Washington and the 50 state capitals, they are displeased with what they view as lack of progress on the plan.
And until the lawmakers have a clear picture of what is to be proposed and how it might affect their states, they have no intention of committing themselves.
This was the thrust of a carefully worded resolution approved here July 29 by delegates attending the annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). The measure, while praising efforts to produce a New Federalism blueprint acceptable to the states, placed the NCSL on record as neither endorsing nor rejecting any proposal. This includes the one now being negotiated between representatives of state government and aides to President Reagan.
Some NCSL members had hoped for a stronger statement, offering at least tentative backing for the President's initiative. But the vast majority of nearly 2,000 delegates were concerned that such a move might imply support for a program not yet drafted.
The NCSL also has made it clear to its negotiators that it wants no part of any arrangement that would shift full responsibility for any welfare program to the states.
NCSL members, and members of the National Governors' Association who will gather later this month, are cool to one potential compromise being pushed by the administration. It would have the US government take over medicaid and, in exchange, place the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), including funding, with states.
The lawmakers generally view both AFDC and medicaid as ''national responsibilities,'' says Thomas Loftus, Democratic floor leader of the Wisconsin House of Representatives. He holds that the setup favored by the White House is ''not what New Federalism is all about.'' The proposed swap of medicaid for AFDC ''has no broad-based national goal behind it'' but rather is the result of a sorting of functions ''in a classic political compromise.''
Mr. Loftus warns that welfare would vary widely among the 50 states, depending on revenue sources rather than need.
As an alternative to the proposed swap, he calls for continuing the present setup for five years. The states and Washington would join in efforts for ''new national policies that will offer a better life for sick and poor Americans, while at the same time increasing accountability and efficiency. Let the states experiment,'' Loftus pleads.
Delegates voiced their concerns over future welfare funding and its potential impact on their states. But they also praised President Reagan for ''sparking a national debate on federalism'' and the need to sort out responsibilities of different levels of government.
Richard Williamson, special presidential assistant for intragovernment relations, conceded that it has taken longer than anticipated to work out New Federalism specifics. It's impossible to devise a plan in which there will be neither winners nor losers, he told the legislators. Some states are bound to make out better than others.
Besides taking a wait-and-see stance on New Federalism, the NCSL members approved a broad range of resolutions including those calling for:
* Interest-free loans to unemployment compensation funds in states with jobless rates higher than the national average.
* A ''moderate'' increase in the 4 cent-a-gallon federal gasoline tax to permit completion of the rebuilding of Interstate bridges and aid to mass transit construction.
* Extension of the Highway Trust Fund through 1990.
* Immunity from federal antitrust laws for local government.
* Temporary federal aid to states to help ease the impact of influx of illegal aliens.