Welfare reform must not get lost in federalism debate

States' rights vs. federal power is an age-old debate.

From the conception of the nation, people have argued where power should lie whether states should have the ultimate power over their residents or the federal government should have a say.

Arizona has recently taken a rabid pro-state stance, fighting the federal government on several key issues. Not only is this stance impractical, it is also detrimental to the people the state is trying to serve.

Take the speed-limit issue, for instance. Some state legislators want to disregard federal regulations and let people drive 65 miles per hour, even in city where the 55 mph limit currently applies.

Not only would this encourage speedier driving around populated areas, thus increasing auto accident risks, it would also jeopardize more than $200 million in federal funds for road upkeep.

This just doesn't make sense. Admittedly, people already drive faster than the 55 mph limit, but legalizing something that is potentially harmful because it is already a widespread behavior is not the answer. Substitute marijuana in this argument and I doubt many people would agree (although it's not an entirely bad idea). But the argument still holds people smoke pot already, so why not just legalize it and get it over with?

But besides this, the money matter is still a question. No, we don't want the federal dragon breathing fire down our necks, but is this issue worth losing needed infrastructure dollars? If the state government is willing to sacrifice federal money needed to make auto traffic better, why do it with an issue that would allow people to drive faster on lesser quality roads? Common sense should prevail, and it is virtually absent here.

Others have suggested that Arizona should decline federal money for anti-crime measures even though that would mean not getting needed additional law enforcement officers, because the state doesn't want the feds to tell them what to do.

The Arizona House Committee on States Rights and Mandates approved a bill that would make it a crime for anyone to enforce parts of the Federal Endangered Species Act, until the feds ask for Arizona's permission. While this posturing against the federal government is worthy in some cases, if the federal government was forcing extremely high taxes on people, for example, this is not the instance.

Welfare reform is one topic where states may merit a higher degree of separation from federal government. Several states have successful welfare and health care systems, and chatter about turning over welfare management to the state is picking up popularity even on a federal level. The idea behind this is to turn states into welfare labs, and then take the best elements and apply them nationally.

States as welfare Petri dishes is a good concept, but what will be the consequences for recipients before we cull the best and discard the rest? State assistance already differs monetarily, which can impact someone who moves from, say, Oklahoma to California.

Arizona counties already cut from public assistance-type monies to fund other necessary programs. For instance, a southern Arizona county had to funnel money from a program for mothers, infants and children because it lacked money elsewhere. This left qualified people out in the cold, unable to receive help.

If welfare reform is going to be an intrastate effort on an interstate level, we must make sure the states can handle it, and politicians are willing to devote the resources necessary. While we may garner the secrets of a more efficient welfare/workfare system we could also irreparably harm it. We must be careful to elect officials who will work as advocates for their constituencies and not cater to wealthy big business or other partisan pressures.

If the state is financially responsible for individual welfare projects then the voters must make sure elected officials respect this, and act accordingly. If money comes unallocated from the federal government for welfare/workfare then the public must keep tabs on state government to make sure the funds are going where they are needed.

Welfare is not something that should fall prey to the state vs. federal debate that Arizona, in particular, seems to be waging. People subsisting on or below the poverty level are not political fodder, and helping them should not be a game where one side wins.

After all, you never know when you'll need help.

Sarah Garrecht is Wildcat editor in chief and a journalism senior.

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