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Devolution's Price


The current political pressures on the welfare state, induced both by fiscal pressures and a Republican majority in Congress, have prompted some of its defenders to look for solutions at state and local levels. They point out that the American federal system is open, complex, and pluralist. Problems that cannot be addressed at one level are often resolved at another. Interests that cannot gain representation in Washington get heard in Albany, Springfield, and Sacramento. They remind us that state and local governments filled in many programmatic gaps opened up by the Reagan Administration. Such optimism, however, is misguided. Current proposals for devolution differ markedly from those of the 1980s. While the Reagan devolution was mainly limited to the developmental or productivity policy arena, the Gingrich devolution promises to shape redistributive policy. This distinction is important because the impact of devolution varies greatly depending on the policy arena in which it occurs.

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