U.S. state governments rarely work in tandem to influence federal policy: panel

Roundtable participants Sandra Sagisa (left) and John Kincaid (right) listen to Troy Smith speak at a recent discussion on intergovernmental relations in Hawaii. The event was part of the Forum’s Global Dialogue on Federalism.

The stimulus package passed by the American government and its effect on intergovernmental relations were highlights of a recent roundtable of federalism experts and practitioners from across the United States.

The success of the massive bailout package will require considerable co-ordination among various levels of government, thereby bringing intergovernmental relations to the forefront of American domestic policy. Participants described American intergovernmental relations as dominated by personal and informal relations because no formal intergovernmental forums exist.

Much of the roundtable discussion focused on state governments in the U.S., as they increasingly rely on federal funds to balance budgets despite rigid restrictions. While state governments can indeed influence federal policy when co-operating with other state governments, participants noted that this is a rare occurrence.

The most controversial topic of the discussion was how intergovernmental relations affect democracy and citizen participation. Some defended the multiple pathways – federal, state or local – that issues such as education or health can be implemented in the American federal system. Others argued that these multiple pathways undermine the ability of state and local governments to respond to the diversity of their area and gives citizens less of a sense of efficacy and willingness to participate in government. Most citizens are not concerned with which level of government is responsible for what, participants said. Citizens just want the issues addressed.

The event took place on March 13, 2009 at Brigham Young University, Hawaii. Troy Smith, an associate professor of political science at the university, coordinated the roundtable.

Other participants included Chad Blair, Hawaii Pacific News; Colleen Meyer, former representative in the Hawaii House of Representatives; Ed Case, former member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Hawaii; Erik Norton, young professional; Joe Marbach, Seton Hall University; John Kincaid, Lafeyette College; John M. Cummings III, Department of Emergency Management, City of Honolulu; Jon Lang, young professional; Keith Roberts, Marquette University; Michael P. Hamnett, Research Corporation of the University of Hawaii; Ms. Sandra Sagisa, of Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hanneman’s Office; Nadezhda Bikalova, Woodrow Wilson Center; Neil Milner, University of Hawaii; Paul Posner, George Mason University; Thomas Cestare, National Labor Relations Board; and Tim Conlan, George Mason University.



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