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Regardless of any connection that may have had with events today, it is clear that the underlying motive of the present drive for regional government is the consolidation of state and local governments into regional units under total federal control. The people will be excluded from the political and governmental processes.”
“If the day should ever arrive, (which God forbid!), when the people of the different parts of our country shall allow their local affairs to be administered by prefects sent from Washington, and when the self-government of the states shall have been so far lost as that of the departments of France, or even so far as that of the counties of England–on that day the progressive political career of the American people will have come to an end, and the hopes that have been built upon it for the future happiness and prosperity of mankind will be wrecked forever.” – John Fiske, historian, quoted in “Our Changing Constitution” by Charles W. Pierson, Doubleday, Page & Company, 1922.Unfortunately, God did not forbid it, and the day of control of local affairs by Washington is here. It comes in the form of “regionalism” and the weapon for imposing it is federal “revenue-sharing”.
Regionalism is the consolidation of local and state governments into large regional units and the centralization of power in bureaucratic authorities, boards, and commissions whose primary function will be to administer plans and programs dictated by Washington.
We’ve found traces of Regionalism as far back as the 1920’s, in fact, the 1922 book mentioned above dealt with the federal incursions into state and local affairs and the Constitutional perversions used to justify it.
Earlier still, though we don’t know if it had any connection with the present federal drive for empire, the consolidation of Philadelphia in 1854 is a good example of one of the main goals of modern regionalism — the reduction of the number of local governments and elected officials. In that case, six boroughs, thirteen townships, and nine districts were combined into one city. Prior to that, we had such places as Germantown Borough, Germantown Twp., Roxborough Borough, etc, and, of course, Philadelphia County. In some sections of the city the action is still called the “crime of 1854”. And a crime it was! The people of the townships and boroughs were robbed of a substantial part of their representation and all of their local control.
Regardless of any connection that may have had with events today, it is clear that the underlying motive of the present drive for regional government is the consolidation of state and local governments into regional units under total federal control. The people will be excluded from the political and governmental processes.
The stage was set in 1913 for this federal usurpation of those powers delegated by the Constitution to the states and to the people. The Federal Reserve Act, together with the 16th Amendment permitting the graduated income tax, assured the Federal Government economic dominance of the states, and the 17th Amendment, sold to the people as a great triumph of democracy, took away state control of the Senate, thereby eliminating one of the most important Constitutional checks for maintaining the balance of power between the States and the Federal Government.
The promoters of centralization wasted no time in taking advantage of their new powers. In the revised 1923 edition of his 1915 book, “The New American Government and Its Work”, (Note the term “New”–implying the replacement of an “Old”!), James T. Young says, “Whenever it appears that the Constitution hinders a transfer of power from the States to Congress, those interested seek some expedient by which to evade this obstacle…”. He then cites “judicial interpretation” and “commerce regulating power” as two methods and continues, “The third, and at present most promising way is the subsidy plan. Congress grants to the States a fund under its power to tax and to appropriate for the general welfare. This fund is given only on condition that the States appropriate a similar sum and that the total amount be used for a definite purpose fixed in the Federal Law. This purpose may be, and often is, entirely outside the regulating authority of Congress.” That is the principle method used today to promote “Regionalism” (Federal takeover). It is commonly known as the “carrot and stick” method. The legal term is, “Bribery and Extortion”.
This might be a good point to interrupt the history of regionalism and discuss what’s wrong with it. The most important thing we can think of is that it effectively removes the people from the electoral process. It does this by concentrating power in units of government that are increasingly larger and more remote from the people and by establishing commissions and authorities composed of appointed officials who do not answer to the people.
As government moves to higher levels, towns to counties to “sub-state regions” to states to “federal regions” to the federal government itself, the per capita representation goes down and the people lose all control over elections. In a small town of thousands, a few knowledgeable citizens can inform enough others to oust corrupt officials. It’s almost impossible in a county with hundreds of thousands, or a state with millions. When it comes to a national government of hundreds of millions, only those who finance the nation and the elections can influence the elected officials and unelected bureaucrats.
Resuming the background, it’s fairly common knowledge, certainly among those who have fought the growth of government, that centralization received a major boost in the 1930’s as a result of the depression (which we were told the Federal Reserve was created to prevent — were we lied to?). Less known today is the plan announced in the New York Times Magazine on April 24, 1935, to divide the nation into nine “Departments”. Under the plan, States’ rights would have been abolished. The plan, so boldly announced, undoubtedly met very stiff opposition, so nothing came of it–at the time. In fact, in 1943, Governor Carr of Colorado said he had uncovered a government plan to set up “regional dictatorships”. Carr said that regional authorities would be setup “ostensibly to regulate physical resources”. Of course, government officials denied any knowledge of such a plan. However, in 1972, Richard Nixon, by Executive Order 11647, divided the country into ten “Federal Regions”. In typical Orwellian “Double-Speak”, he called it “decentralization”. In 1979, by E.O. 12149, Jimmy Carter established Federal Regional Councils for each of those districts. This has been the pattern–announce the plan, deny in the face of opposition, continue in darkness, then slip quietly into the light again. Under heat of opposition to the reemerged scheme, Ronald Reagan, so we understand, rescinded those E.O.’s, but we have to believe that, if true, the program just slid back into the cover of darkness again.
In the 1960’s, prior to Nixon’s E.O. 11647, the drive had picked up momentum again in the form of various “revenue- sharing” schemes. Federal officials pointed out that, now collecting over 70% of the nations tax revenues, Washington was in a better financial position to solve the problems of the states and our local governments. The Federal Deficit was apparently not noticed. That many of the problems were caused by prior Federal meddling in state and local affairs was ignored.
Possibly the most damning piece of evidence as to the intent of “Revenue-Sharing” is the audaciously honest book “Revenue-Sharing” by Congressman Henry Reuss. Reuss, a leading sponsor of the program, makes it clear in the book that “Revenue- Sharing” should be used as “an incentive” to states to “modernize” their local governments. To qualify for the federal handouts, states would have to submit a “good faith” plan showing how they intend to implement this “modernization” of local government. Among the things to be included are: consolidation of the “too many”, “fragmented”, “balkanized”, “minuscule”, “jungle of”, “outmoded”, “horse and buggy” local governments; establishment of regional planning mechanisms; state constitutional changes to permit “interstate compacts”; steps to reduce the number of elected officials and to replace them with appointed ones (because being “forced” to vote for too many officials confuses the voters); and finally, to make provisions for state income taxes–the more “progressive”, the better. He also wants the larger governmental units created by the program to be able to setup more “services”, borrow with less state restriction, and, of course, be able to levy more taxes in addition to the increased funds from federal and state programs. The “federal” money (the carrot) will come on the condition that the states and locals use it for ends consistent with a “national purpose”. If not, the funds will be withheld (the stick).
Even before Reuss’s book was published, it is evident that the intent of Congress was known. Some states had already begun complying. In 1968, for example, Pennsylvania amended its constitution to permit interstate compacts, boundary changes, and to “free” the expansion and taxing powers of local governments. It is through the expansion of “services” and taxing powers that the local governments will become such unbearable burdens that the people will demand that they be abolished. The regionalists will be able to say, “We only gave the people what they wanted”.
In 1972, the Pennsylvania State Legislature, yielding to the federal pressure, passed Act 62 of 1972, the so-called, “Home Rule and Optional Plans Act”. Act 62 is designed to carry out the federal plans to destroy (modernize) local government while creating an illusion of a “grass roots movement”. It permits almost unlimited expansion of local government and taxes, and the transfer of powers from one government to another. To create the “grass roots” illusion, the method of implementation provided by Act 62 is “citizen referendum”. A commission is elected to “study” the present form of government, be it township, borough, or county. After an allotted time specified in the Act, they issue their report. They may recommend keeping the present form, adopting a “Home Rule” charter, or changing to one of the “Optional Plans” provided in Act 62.
This last point must be emphasized. The only recommendations the commission can make regarding changing the form of government are: keep the present form, write a Charter, or adopt an “Optional Plan”. The Masters of Deceit in the Department of Community Affairs (now the Department of Community and Economic Development) try to tell us that if we don’t like Act 62 government after we’ve tried it, “it appears” we can go back to the old codes. We can’t! Act 62 does not give any provision for placing a question on the ballot for going back. When we asked state “consultants” to the Bucks County’s second commission to cite statutes that would authorize such a question, they could not.
How will the new forms destroy our townships and boroughs? In two ways. The slow way is to get a majority of them under Act 62 and then expand them under the new powers granted. Eventually, they will become such an intrusive and costly burden that the people will demand they be eliminated.
A much quicker method is through adoption of a “Home Rule” Charter or an optional plan at the county level. Again, through the broad grant of powers to tax and spend (pronounced: provide services) the county will ultimately come to dwarf the local units. The argument will then be made that the townships and boroughs are insignificant and superfluous, and they will be eliminated. The counties will become “cities”. Preparing the way for further consolidation of those “cities”, the governor, by Executive Directive 48 dated August 28, 1972, divided Pennsylvania into 10 sub-state regions.
Of course, proponents of Home Rule or Optional Plan Government vehemently deny that is regionalism–now! But at first they admitted, almost gloated, over the prospects of regionalizing local government through the Act. Like typical utopian gurus expecting the sheep (that’s us) to see immediately the brilliance of their ‘enlightened” schemes, they announced it openly. Denial began when we refused to follow the pipers and push our local governments into the sea. But they were too late. It was their words that we used to defeat them three times in Bucks County.
A word of caution. There are some who think that they can beat the intent of the Act by writing clauses in a “Home Rule” Charter that in some way limits the broad grant of powers or expands the “Opt-Out” clause. There are others who will do it to deliberately deceive the voters. Don’t be fooled. They can’t! Act 62 is the law. A local charter commission can’t amend acts of the legislature, and the “broad grant of power” and the provisions for a local government to “opt-out” are clear. Citizens of a county who accept a charter or Optional Plan because they think they can beat the Act will likely learn the hard way, and the price will be high. It will eventually cost them their townships and boroughs.
Despite the three “Home Rule”/Optional Plan victories at the county level in Bucks, we’ve hardly put a dent in regionalism, because Act 62 is only one part of a multi-pronged attack on local representative government. It is intended to give an appearance of a “grass-roots” origin to any changes, to make the people think it is their idea. However, if the people can’t be fooled, there are also COGS (Councils of Government), Regional Planning Commissions, special purpose authorities, “Urban County” status, etc. These are designed to bring in regionalism over, under, and around the people and their local officials if they can’t get through them. Still, because the illusion of a “grass-roots” source of regional government is important to those promoting it, the “Home Rule and Optional Plans Act” is their preferred method of achieving regional government.
We’ll end this article as we began it, quoting from Pierson’s “Our Changing Constitution”. We’ve chosen a few pertinent comments by the author himself.
“What then of the future? Is the Constitution hopelessly out of date? Are the states to be submerged and virtually obliterated in the drift toward centralization? No thoughtful patriot can view such a possibility without the gravest misgivings. The integrity of the states was a cardinal principle of our governmental scheme. Abandon that and we are adrift from the moorings which to the minds of statesmen of past generations constituted the safety of the republic.”
“There is another aspect of the matter, however. The burden of federal bureaucracy is beginning to be felt by the average man. He is being regulated more and more in his meats and drinks, his morals and the activities of his daily life, from Washington. If he will only stop and think he must realize that no one central authority can supervise the daily lives of a hundred million people scattered over half a continent, without becoming top-heavy.”
“In the very nature of things there is bound to be a reaction against centralization sooner or later. The real question is whether it will come in time to save the present constitutional scheme.”
That was 1922! We’ve sunk a long way, baby!