Fiscal federalism is the idea that states should set their own economic policies rather than following directives from Washington. Libertarians have a particular attachment to the concept. If states can differentiate themselves on the basis of taxes, spending, and regulation, that gives Americans more leeway in deciding the rules under which we live. If we’re dissatisfied with the policies of the state we live in, we can register our discontent by voting with our feet and moving to another jurisdiction. This competition for residents helps keep lawmakers in check, giving them an incentive to keep taxes and other intrusions modest.
For decades, alas, fiscal power has become increasingly centralized, making a joke of federalism. Washington has taken over more and more state functions, largely through grants to state and local governments, also called grants-in-aid. Figure 1 shows federal grant spending in constant dollars from 1960 to 2013. As you can see, total grant outlays increased from $285 billion in fiscal year 2000 to a whopping $493 billion in fiscal year 2010—a 73 percent increase. Grants also account for a bigger share of federal spending: 18 percent in 2009, compared to 7.6 percent in 1960.
I wrote about this in January in relation to the Oregon state tax hikes.