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Shell Game

April 28, 1986

In voting 54 to 41 to end general revenue sharing, the U.S. Senate is engaging in a shell game to fool the people into believing that they will get something for nothing. This sham comes on the heels of a campaign by the Reagan Administration to persuade Americans that state and local governments are in fat city.

The fact is that, despite the empty promises of New Federalism, state and local governments have taken it in the neck. As Colorado Gov. Richard D. Lamm put it: "Colorado, like every other state in the Union, is in the process of being disowned by the federal government."

Unless the House backs revenue sharing, it will end this fall, 14 years after it was promoted by Richard M. Nixon as one of the most constructive of intergovernmental programs. The idea was to stop saddling the junior governments with federal restrictions and red tape and to use the greater federal revenue-raising power to help them deal with massive pressures for services. States were cut off from revenue sharing in 1981, but local governments are getting $4.4 billion this year.

There is one excuse for ending revenue sharing: We can't afford it anymore. The result? Local governments, where possible, will be forced to raise taxes again to finance the growing burden of programs being dumped onto them by Washington. If they can't raise taxes, as in Los Angeles County, they will go to the states for more money. Washington cuts taxes and the states raise them, or else programs get cut and people suffer. The taxpayers save out of one pocket and get hit in the other.

The Reagan budget proposes to cut $1.2 billion in other state and local aid programs in 1987; the cuts will grow to $7.6 billion in 1991. Enough is enough. Revenue sharing, at the very least, should be spared if the spirit of federal-state-local partnership is to mean anything.

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