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Utah and Federal Funds: Breaking the Habit

At times it seems Utah government is addicted to federal funds. No matter what strings come attached, we accept them year after year.

In fiscal year 2010, the state of Utah received $3.6 billion in federal aid, which was 29 percent of the state budget – up from 22 percent in 1990. Major recipients were Utah’s departments of health ($1.6 billion), transportation ($422 million), and public education ($499 million). Utah’s local governments received an additional $605 million.

What’s wrong with accepting federal funds? The money ultimately comes from us, doesn’t it? Well, accepting federal dollars involves a lot more than claiming Utah’s “piece of the pie.”

Nearly all federal money comes with regulatory strings attached, strings that tie us down and prevent us from doing what’s best for Utahns. As just one example, Utah public schools have been dealing with flawed federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) regulations for a decade now. NCLB regulations affect student testing, teacher hiring, how reading is taught, and on and on. In essence, the 6 percent of Utah public education dollars coming from NCLB influence nearly 100 percent of state education policy.

Accepting one-size-fits-all solutions attached to “free” federal funds is not worth the cost. It limits our freedom, increases state and local spending, erodes federalism, diminishes public accountability, and leads to bad policy.

What can we do about it?

The answer is simple: Stop accepting federal funds. Federal bribes can be very tempting, but they simply aren’t worth it. Utahns are innovative, industrious and resilient enough to make it on our own. We can develop additional sources of funding from our own state if we really need them, which would be much better than enslaving our families and communities to a distant master.

Utah has shown streaks of independence from Washington but continues to embrace federal “aid” and the strings attached to it. When the feds come calling, the best advice is usually this: “Just say no!”

Dig deeper:

Policy Paper: NCLB: Selling Utah’s Schools for a Mess of Pottage

Policy Paper: Federalism and the Role of the States

Policy Paper: Federal Intervention in Public Education: Is It Good for Utah?

Blog: Utah’s Addiction to the Feds

Newsletter: Set Our Health Care System Free

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