A collaborative partnership
The delegation was comprised of 9 parliamentarians—from the United Kingdom, France, Bulgaria, Belgium, Portugal and Spain—and accompanying staff members. A few representatives from the EP Liaison Office to US Congress were also in attendance. The EP sends annual delegations to the US with the aim of connecting legislators and exchanging policy ideas across the Atlantic. The delegation that visited NCSL focuses on budgetary planning and was led by Alain Lamassoure of France.
The session began with a presentation on fiscal federalism and federal/state funding relationships. Dr. Juppe explained that, in the United States, the budget is largely controlled by the executive branch, limiting legislative involvement to spending cuts and budget balancing. Each state individually presents its funding needs before a Congressional delegation each year and state lobbyists compete for federal grants. Senator Madaleno focused on Maryland as an example by describing his experience as a member of the Maryland State Senate Committee on Budget & Taxation. The Senator detailed how federal programs are implemented at the state level and emphasized that funding amounts are determined by formulas that take state wealth in to account. Senator Madaleno emphasized the nuances of the state/federal relationships by explaining how large federal programs often come with strings attached. The federal government encourages states to adopt federal guidelines as state law by providing incentives in the form of federal funding for vital sectors.
Another major point of interest to the EP delegation was how federal funding is processed by the state. The speakers explained that money largely “passes through” the state and goes directly to the specified program. Money intended for education, for example, is quickly handed over to the state’s education system. After big-picture legislation is passed, details are often worked out “bureaucrat to bureaucrat.”
European parliamentarians were surprised to hear that states, however, generate the majority of their revenues from state imposed taxes like income and sales tax. Difficult questions were asked on how the US—both federally and at the state level—intends to keep spending at the current rate without a feasible plan to finance the debt. Delegate Bohanan took the lead on explaining the recent sequester and how gridlock does sometimes impede our system. The states, in extreme need, have the federal government to fall back on, but the federal government does not have such a safety net. The impact of federal implemented cuts, taxes, and furloughs still looms large in the future. Delegate Bohanan was adamant that both sides of the political spectrum must make concessions by raising revenues and cutting costly programs.
The meeting was concluded with a final round of questions on legislators’ careers and salaries, and how states coordinate with each other through organizations like NCSL.
To Learn More
If you would like to learn more about NCSL's work with international parliamentary bodies and organizations in Washington, D.C. and throughout the world, please contact either Kathy Brennan Wiggins, director of NCSL's International Program or Courtney Bjorgaard, staff coordinator of NCSL's International Program.