Special of the week; Issue 10-1969
N-E-R, the National Educational Radio Network presents Special of the Week. This is the fourth of seven half hour radio documentary programs on Metropolitan Government, prepared for broadcast by the Capital Cities Broadcast Station in Detroit, WJR. The producer and narrator is Oscar Furnett, WJR News. The title for this series is there a better way. Everything's run out of some bureau in Washington, and what do a bunch of bureaucrats know about what's going on? Well, every time the federal... Federal bureaucracy. Not only is it hard to pronounce, it's impossible to digest. I-R-S-F-A-A-C-I-R-N-L-R-B-O-E-O-S-B-A. One could drown in a sea of alphabet soup of agencies and statistics, astronomical figures, endless red tape, the paralysis that sets in.
Is there a better way? This is the fourth in a series of reports on local government seeking answers to the question is there a better way. We've talked about regional thinking, urbanization, the flight from the city and local government reorganization. Let's talk now about growing federalism. The name Washington is invoked wherever the urban crisis is discussed. Few solutions are offered to problems of the city that don't start and end with the federal government. Why is this? Why can't the cities or urban areas solve their own problems? Well, the usual answer is that the federal government has all the money. But why is that? Seriously, we have three levels of government, local, state and federal. Why has it grown top heavy? It's easier to denounce federal bureaucracy than to explain why it has developed.
Political scientists do not necessarily agree on the question of growing federalism and what brought it about, but MIT professor Alan Alchuller outlines what he considers the four main reasons. First, the Federalist Constitution, which was a product of a very brief period in American politics of reaction to the legislative supremacy, to the weakness of executives and government generally that had characterized the revolutionary and immediate post-revolutionary period. And it was in reaction to that. That in 1787, our Constitution was developed and that Washington and Adams became presidents of the United States. From the 19th and early 20th centuries, all the trend in American politics was in the other direction, in the direction of fragmentation of weakening American government, of weakening American executives. But the Federalist Constitution was extremely difficult to amend, and the result is that we will left with a potentially very strong executive, which has come into his own in
the 20th century, and with a political system that has no provision for referendum. So one does not have to go directly to the people to have them vote on particular issues, and law-growing can thrive in legislation. Second, the national government, of course, is responsible for national defense. And it is in performing the national defense function that loyalties are solidified in the nation. Also, of course, the national tax base was built up during wartime. One considers the extraordinary difficulty that would have existed in American politics had we tried to build up the tax base from what it was in the 20s and 30s to what it has been in the 40s, 50s and 60s in the absence of wartime pressures. One can see the importance of war in making the federal government the seeming found of unlimited resources that it has often appeared to be in the last decade or two.
And of course, the prestige of the President is very closely related to his wartime leader in the leadership status. Third, the responsibility of the national government for general prosperity. And again, there have been enormous increments in the status and power of American government in times of crisis. And fourth, and finally, the national government is extremely visible. It attracts national attention and the best talent available to government in the nation for obvious reasons. There are other reasons, of course, as well, why the national government has grown in power far more than state and local governments in the 20th century. But I think these are the most important. When raising objections to growing federalism, the slogan government closest to the people governs best is often heard. Professor Altschuller is of the opinion that there is such a thing as government too close to the people. The forces of democracy in 19th century and early 20th century America created a situation in which local government was put so close to the people that strong leadership became
virtually impossible in the system, unless there was a political machine. That is, government was fragmented, power was fragmented. There was provision for almost all important decisions to be taken by referenda, provisions for recall, for initiative on the part of the people and legislation and so on and so forth. When you create a situation like this, the only way in which enough power can be put together to do anything is to have a political machine, but when you have political machines, they tend to be unsympathetic to the kinds of values which planning symbolizes in America. They are hostile to intellectualism, they are hostile to broad policy, political machines on the whole are oriented toward ad hoc, law-growing kinds of action. The growth of the middle class in America has largely destroyed the political machines as the use to function. They symbolized a particular political culture. Parties are also extremely weak at the local level.
There is a strong desire on the part of the American people almost everywhere it appears for local non-partisanship and whether all parties for primaries and of course primaries have the effect of breaking up political parties or fragmenting them by making it impossible for anybody to dictate nominations because everybody discos to the public. That is every prospective candidate goes to the public for nominations. So the result is that even where we have political parties, they are essentially symbolic rather than genuine mechanisms for holding politicians together and for mobilizing them in the service of political causes. An expression by President Harry Truman comes to mind, the buck stops here. The point is that governments at lower levels can pass the buck. It's easier to let Washington raise the money. They're not so close to the people and citizens themselves can escape local problems. The crises have very different effects locally than they have nationally. The reason for this is that citizens can escape local crises.
Scott Greer has coined the term the community of limited liability and that's exactly what American localities are. You have a limited commitment to them. If their problems become overwhelming, you pick up and leave them. This is at least true of the more affluent segments of the population. Those who cannot leave them, those who are least able to escape undesirable urban developments are also those who are least sympathetic to the values represented by planning. That is, the lower middle classes, the working classes in many of our big cities who are threatened by Negro migrations into their areas are not particularly sympathetic to intellectual values. They're primarily concerned with preserving their own homogenous neighborhoods. Of course, the rich are not less concerned or very much less concerned with that particular value, but it's easier for them to achieve it by simply moving elsewhere rather than staying and fighting and being violent about it.
University of Michigan political scientist Arthur Bromidge sees an increasingly greater role for the federal government in local problems. I think that it's pretty obvious where we're going, what we're doing is we're saying more and more and we've been saying it for many years now that the national government has to help solve these problems of the inner study. For instance, a national commission of inquiry on civil disorders mentions a fact that the national government could and probably should pay 90 percent of all welfare costs. We've got urban renewal, we've got public housing, we've got a so-called poverty program. We are constantly in the model city's program, we're constantly turning to the national government and saying you have got to redress this balance because you have this superior tax system with progressive income tax.
And so my thought at the moment would be that long before we see federations and recaptured the whole metropolitan areas, we're going to be moving more and more into national support of welfare programs, health programs, educational programs and whatnot that give greater assistance to the central cities. I don't see how we got away from that. Professor Bromidge is sympathetic to the idea of the federal government taking full responsibility for certain functions that traditionally have come under local jurisdiction. I think in our modern economy that the problem with the people at the poverty level is a national problem and that we have got to have increasing national support. I'm quite intrigued with the idea that at some point along the line the federal government might in effect say, well, welfare is a national problem and we're going to take
care of 90% or 95% of the cost, although the administration might be left to the states and to the counties and the city counties, but that is of course one approach that the federal government takes a major function like education or welfare and give all out support to that. Now one of the advantages of that I suppose from the point of view of the political scientist is that you can't escape from national taxation. There is one argument that goes this way. Either the local governments will have to get together in some kind of metropolitan federation or else greater federalism. I really see no great prospect at the moment of federation, super governments and metropolitan areas.
You can go back over the record in the United States since about 19, 10, 19, 20 particularly in the 1920s and you can see one effort after another made at some kind of federation all the way from the original attempt in Pittsburgh in the late 20s down to the attempt to create a federated district in St. Louis in the late 50s and you can go back through the record and see that there is a record of failure. It's only occasionally that you crash through with something like the Dade County experiment so that I think there is so much political resistance to super governments that my estimate is that we're going to go on the side of the national grant and the national loan and increasingly so and that we have to take the consequences of that which is the federal taxation, federal bureaucracy and developing a federal city relations even to a greater
degree than we have at the present time. The federal government as it became more and more involved in problems of the cities has provided the principle pushed toward regional organization trying to apportion federal grants to an endless string of small municipalities is not only a big job but often wasteful if the projects are not coordinated among communities. At the local level almost in self-defense there is movement toward regional organization and some see this as the last hope for local government. Here is the executive director of the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments Robert Turner. There are many people who would like to scrap the whole system eliminate the institutions as we know them today and start afresh. We don't believe that this is necessary. We believe that which we have is perfectly capable of addressing itself to the condition as we find it and to solving the problems but we recognize we must do it jointly in
a concerted effort. We are convinced that local government must remain strong. If we ought to solve the urban problems we have to do it on a partnership basis with the federal government, with the state government, with the private sector. But if we remain strong in this partnership we will maintain the principle of local self-determination. We will be able to see to it that the government which provides most of the services which is involved in program execution is that government which is closest to the people and that's the way we want it. I believe that the Council of Government concept is the last chance that local government has in this country to remain strong or to be strong.
Talk about reorganization of local government is far from being just academic. In the face of almost unbelievable growth in the next few years something's got to give. A new word has crept into our vocabulary, megalopolis. Around Detroit the word is most often heard in connection with the doxyatus study of the area sponsored by Detroit Edison Company. Edison President E.O. George talks about it. With the growth we have now looking forward to the year 2000 we are going to be the heart of a great lake's megalopolis. Megalopolis reaching from Pittsburgh to Cleveland to the little Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee and perhaps up to Twin Cities. At the present time this megalopolis is growing at a faster rate than the eastern megalopolis from Boston to Washington and by the year 2000 we'll be exceeding in size the eastern megalopolis. This is a rather terrifying prediction when you realize there are problems that exist
now in taking care of the people in the eastern megalopolis. How long do we have to plan for this megalopolitan life? We only have about 25 years to plan now to avoid all mistakes made in development of the eastern megalopolis. So you start with the problems of Detroit, expand there to the problems of the urban areas and then through the region 23,000 square miles and then you'll be concerned about their great lakes megalopolis and that they will have any development of this whole area. We also have another megalopolis megalopolis from Chicago to, through Fort Huron, Buffalo across the Malk Valley to the upper end of the megalopolis and there's a third megalopolis developing from Chicago to, say, Fort Huron up long. They certainly have some river, Toronto, Montreal, Quebec and the cities in between. This is a very strong development, although new.
So you can see a lot of our concern in this area, the development and let you tell the company how we're going to face up to these problems and do a share in solving these problems. It is perhaps not too surprising that people in government often become convinced that their particular level of government is the best suited to tackle the urban problems. For instance, State Senator Robert Huber, an opponent of the Council of Governments, as it is presently constituted, is convinced that the state government is the logical instrument. I think you should have strong state government. I can't think of a single thing that the Southeastern Michigan Council of Government could do that the state legislature couldn't do. Now that's the problem to get a good working legislature at the state level. But I do think you must have intercooperation, certainly air pollution and water transmission and sewers transcend local boundaries. You must have cooperation between local units of government, between counties and even
in metropolitan areas. I'm not fighting that principle and I don't know anybody who is. But I'm just saying that because you agree that you must work together doesn't mean that an arbitrary organization completely above the beyond the call of the people, not responsible to the electorate in any way, shape or form, has unlimited powers. I just don't believe that it should. I think we must, if we're going to protect the local units of government and see that they survive and they can survive and they do the best job because they're the closest to the people. I say that this must be maintained and the only way to do it is to build some restrictions into the unlimited authority that Southeastern Michigan Council of Government has taken upon itself. If the state were to really tackle the urban problems in earnest, where would the money come from? I think we ought to have more massive federal funds coming back to the state from which they came originally instead of being used the way they are.
And I think this is the only way we're going to stay solvent in this country is by making sure that the funds are re-apportioned in the way that they are collected. Now I think that we can, at the state level, do an excellent job of running the state and solving the city problems. There's no reason in the world that we have to have some new metro government to solve the problems. The state legislature can do it. We have qualified people who serve up there and we can do a good job. But as you've pointed out and very aptly, federal bureaucracy, which keeps growing and taking more and more things into itself, has tried to make a poor cousin out of the state governments. And because they've tied up all the financing or the major source of revenues, they've been very successful in making poor cousins out of the states. And that's a shame because the poor cousins then really lose. Now I think we could have strong state government and do a good job. But we've got to make sure that we have our shares of the revenue instead of just giving it all to the swollen federal bureaucracy.
As I mentioned, people in government almost invariably think that the agency which they are involved or the level of government at which they serve is the most logical one to handle the problem, although someone else may have to provide the money. The chairman of the Oakland County Board of Auditors, as might be expected, is an advocate of strong county government. My prime speech every time I get an opportunity to make one is that if you don't recognize that county government is here to stay and it's going to solve your problems on a regional basis for you inside the boundaries of your county, then you are making a mistake because your next alternative is a large metro government because if you don't solve the problem, somebody is going to pick it up and solve it for you. And if the county isn't the agency that's going to do it and you don't admit that it is, when you're throwing your hands up in the air and in 20 years from now, you'll find out that you have a large metro government at the federal government and the state government has said is necessary because you fail to do the job for the people. The most affluent nation in the world isn't a bind about finances and nowhere is this
more evident than in education, particularly in the central cities. The superintendent of Detroit Schools, Dr. Norman Drakler, welcomes the growing federal contribution to education. I do believe that this is obviously coming in the future, that is either our statewide or broader federal support of education. I do, however, believe in the last acts of Congress as far as Title I and Title II monies have proven to be that the old fear that with money there will come control is not necessarily so. In general, I don't regard Washington as a foreign enemy. I think we have our way of influencing Washington as we have our way of influencing our state legislatures so that I believe that since it's recognized that local involvement is essential
to child motivation and child participation, that we can through a discussion, if we have the will to do so, arrive at broader support which the people pay locally in the long run and it doesn't just come from heavens, but there will be broader support on a state basis and on a federal basis with local control still remaining as far as the operation of the school. Dr. Drakler expects more regional thinking to emerge from increased state and federal roles in education. And I think when the federal government or the state government provides these funds, they will encourage regional planning as the history of the past few years has shown. So I think we ought to get in there and plan first before somebody begins to plan for us.
Dr. Drakler sincerely believes that the American system of public schools is at stake. We are one of the highest states in the use of bonding money for school buildings. We do not plan on the regional basis, but simply on a imaginary line that was drawn and we say this is the end of the line and here another school district starts. Let me put it this way. I think the classical rib to support the notion that planning for the central city or the suburb must be done on a metropolitan scale. Is the four lane highway that turns into a cow path at the county line. Now that example can be multiplied in various ways, in libraries, in schools, and other
governmental agencies. Somewhere down the line it may be necessary to do some rethinking about what is local and what is federal responsibility. Are things like poverty and education local problems in the same sense or to the same degree as are, say, police and fire protection, water supply, garbage collection, sewage disposal parks and playgrounds, local streets, off-street parking, transit systems. It could be argued that something like half the people on welfare in almost every city and half the ward patients in city hospitals came there from somewhere else. Also half the children in city schools came from somewhere else and will grow up to work somewhere else. We're not saying it should be done, but if you took the burden of education off the property tax, it would make a tremendous difference. And then there are those who feel that the property tax itself needs to be reformed, that the cities have not used it to good advantage.
One such person is the mayor of Southfield, James Clarkson. Urban renewal will never work if it isn't made a companion with tax reform. You must tax these land values to depress the value so that it can be accessible for production. Land in Detroit is monopolized. Your slum landlord is only the result of a poor taxation structure. It isn't because he isn't getting rent. You find some of your highest rents in some of your worst slum areas in Detroit. The land value is there. So why should he be interested in improving that particular structure? If he's going to be taxed more anyway, and as long as he can get his rent for the slum land without having to bother about it, he's going to take that route. So my recommendation is you tax that land value and you tax it as high as you can. It'll do two things.
It'll reduce the price of land number one. Number two, you'll get rid of your absentee landlord. Eric Clarkson is not against private ownership of property, but he feels that the total community contributes to making a piece of property valuable. Land is unique. There's only so much of it. Land is not a product of the community, in the sense that they made it. It was there when we came here, but the value of that land is a product of the community. And this belongs to the community to operate their government. And this is why in Southfield, we've emphasized annual assessments of our land. And it does two things. First of all, it shifts the incidence of taxation from the homeowner and puts it more on that land value that is so great because of our commercial usage of it. And it is also welcomed by the business people because that eliminates the necessity of having to tax their income.
Everything's run out of some bureau in Washington, and what do a bunch of bureaucrats know about what's going on? Well, every time the federal government gets involved, anything is just a lot of red tape and stalling. Well, Teddy, I'm sick and tired of tax dollars going to Washington. It's just like throwing them down the drain. I say keep the money at home. I can't even get my congressman to answer my letter. And what good would it do if I wrote my complaint to some government agency? You know what's the trouble with Washington? And they waste time and spend all the money at one another every once in a while. Growing federalism was the fourth in a series of special reports seeking answers to the question, is there a better way? Subsequent reports will focus on regional government, SEMCAG or Southeast Michigan Council of Governments and Metropolitan Government. This is Oscar Frenette, WJR News. NERs, special of the week, thanks the Capitol City's broadcast station and Detroit, WJR, for the recordings of these documentaries.
This was part four of seven parts on Metropolitan Government. Is there a better way? This is NER, the National Educational Radio Network.
- Special of the week
- Issue 10-1969
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- No description available
- Public Affairs
- Media type
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 69-SPWK-412 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Special of the week; Issue 10-1969,” 1969-02-14, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed March 3, 2024, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-vq2s918c.
- MLA: “Special of the week; Issue 10-1969.” 1969-02-14. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. March 3, 2024. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-vq2s918c>.
- APA: Special of the week; Issue 10-1969. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-vq2s918c