Boy, this guy is the gift that just keeps on giving: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, not content to interfere with the provision of public services by destroying public-sector unions, has now decided to refuse to sign off on nonprofit grant applications to the Federal government that might “lead to ongoing programs that would need money from state taxpayers later.” The first wave of grant applications deprived of the state’s endorsement would have supported health services, including programs to reduce binge drinking, an unhealthy activity in which Wisconsin leads the nation.
The hard Right has long argued that government services were unnecessary because nonprofits could step into the breach. This claim was always nonsense; but at least its exponents didn’t also take on themselves the task of interfering with the charities’ overwhelmed attempts to do so. Wisconsinites will pay the same Federal taxes whether or not the state receives Federal grants to support its nonprofit sector. So clearly the point is not to shelter the state’s citizens from confiscatory taxes but to punish people who need help. Governor Walker’s ideology apparently requires not just that people in need of assistance seek private charity but that private charity be deprived of the means of assisting them.
And let’s be clear about the legal antecedents of what’s going on here. Groups of citizens of a single state are being deprived of access to something available to all other citizens of the United States—just as groups of citizens of the states of the Old Confederacy were once deprived of the vote. Then, “states’ rights” was a buzz-phrase meaning “the opportunity to mistreat black people without interference from those durned Feds.” Now, in Governor Walker’s view, the phrase is even more expansive, meaning “the opportunity to mistreat unhealthy and/or poor people of every color to make the point that those durned Feds have no right to interfere.” Anyone who’s enthusiastic about the states’ rights claims in the governors’ lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act should check out Wisconsin for a foretaste of what states’ rights really mean to the rights of states’ citizens.
The good news is, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 made clear that states’ rights are trumped by citizens’ right to vote. Thus—and despite many recent efforts to enact barriers to that right–-there’s a reasonable chance that Governor Walker will lose his legislative majority in the next few weeks, whereupon the appropriate state-federal balance can be restored.
Or, should I say, the Constitution can be restored.
On Wisconsin! Part I appears here.