The purpose of this paper is to review the book, Storm Over the States, by Terry Sanford, by giving a summation as well as a criticism and analysis of the book.
The ex-Governor of North Carolina, Terry Sanford, begins his book by immediately listing the faults of the states – that they are “indecisive, antiquated, timid, ineffective, unwilling to face problems, non-responsive, and uninterested in cities” (1). He then goes on to explain the importance of state governments. If states were abolished he reasons that a unitary government would result. Dictatorships are orderly and efficient and also tyrannical. Sanford poses the question of whether we want a single national government or a federal government which combines a national government with the government of several states. He contends the answer depends on our willingness to look for faults and to find answers for the illnesses of state government.
Sanford looks at the beginnings of our nation when the concern of our forefathers was to establish a government to serve the people, not vice versa, as had been the case under the English monarchy. As our society has become more complex so has the need for government assistance increased. The citizen needs protection from motorists, unsafe manufacturing standards; insurance for his savings; a guarantee of fair earnings, etc.
Sanford admits that much of the debate over which level of government should be given the authority over a particular program has been irrelevant to most Americans. Is the federal government too centralized? Is the state government too weak? The answers lie in how they serve the citizen.
When the United States Constitution was being written, it was felt that the states should be subordinated to the national government. In the Bill of Rights, later added, the Tenth Amendment provides that “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, not prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States, respectively or to the people” (17). The United States Supreme Court was to be the final arbiter in crucial matters between states and the national government.
Over the years the power of the states continued to shrink and the national government’s scope expanded. Presently, the migratory habits of the population, the spilling over of cities across state lines contribute to making states obsolete. Only the national government can provide some functions, such as regulating interstate transportation.
Sanford explains why he feels that state governments must not be eliminated, and contends that they are here to stay. What is needed then is to shape the states, so that they are more responsive to citizen needs. He suggests different intergovernmental relationships that he believes will correct the ills of the present system. An analysis of the defects of the grants-in-aid program is given.
Interstate compacts are studied showing how some states cooperate with one another to strengthen their positions and facilitate effective operations of a mutual concern.
Storm Over the States is a dramatically titled book, lacking in drama. It is basically no more than the findings and opinions of Terry Sanford, ex-Governor of North Carolina, written with the help of the Ford Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation. The book warns that unless the role of the state in our federal system be revitalized, the states may be weakened to the point of endangering our federal system. None of the problems of the state government as outlined are particularly unfamiliar. This is not an in-depth study, nor a particularly controversial treatise, but rather a former governor showing concern for the elimination of states rights and the lessening of the gubernatorial role.
Sanford makes some practical recommendations for a redesign of state governments and for a fuller cooperation between states with like interests. He also urges that the federal government and state governments adopt a new partnership that would benefit both. There is little in this book that is offensive. Considerable research has gone into this project as evidenced by the footnotes that end each chapter.
The states are studied in an overview, and when specific states are mentioned, it is to show how a particular policy can be adopted to others, at the same time stressing the uniqueness and individuality of each state. It is not fair to generalize about states as there is considerable diversity of interests. That is the most sensible reason for not allowing the states to deteriorate. They, after all, are more in touch with the problems confronting the people in their states, than the national government.
This book was not intended to be either a text or a thorough treatise on state governments, the federal system or intergovernmental relationships, but rather as an expression of the author’s thoughts on how the states might increase their power. Sanford says states are necessary. They do test the limitations of accepted doctrine and they do offer the citizen another power center. Of course, the states must work together. Unfortunately, state jurisdictions today stop at boundaries drawn up in colonial days. Their problems do not. It is true that most state governments are in need of reform. It is equally true that the people are unresponsive to this need. There is always hesitancy for change, and frankly reorganization of the state sounds like a dull undertaking. The public generally has a negative view of state government. Ineffectualness of top leadership, scandals in top administrative offices, unconcern for the problems of cities, have contributed to this feeling.
But the states do play a significant role in our country’s politics. They are important in selecting the political candidates for the President and Vice President of the United States. Each political party chooses its candidate at the national convention by a state roll call. United States Congressmen and Senators are products of the state political system. Each state has two Senators. It is true, the States do occupy a strong Constitutional position in the nation.
Despite their weakness, the states do have the power to tax, borrow money, conduct elections, charter corporations, operate and support public schools, colleges and universities. They also administer most federal grant-in-aid programs. The grants-in-aid program is, however, not without problems. “One of the major problems is that priorities tend to be reordered to suit the money available instead forcing states to meet grants instead of meeting problems” (95).
State legislatures and the Governors are generally weak in comparison to their responsibilities. The author stresses the necessity of finding a new approach to intergovernmental relations, of renewing the responsibilities of the states by including them in programs as coordinators of operations, where problems exist, with authority to insist on cessation of jurisdictional squabbles and with encouragement to get involved with new ventures. At present, there is definitely a lack of coordination between the federal agency and state government. But the national government cannot effectively reach its goals without the power of the states and the states cannot serve their people without the power of the national government. And the city needs both the national government and the states and they both need the duty of city residents.
Sanford believes that the public has a low opinion of state governments because the states do not spend enough on public relations. In the past, states rights has been abused. People justifiably have little faith in the states. It is doubtful that the public would agree to the states spending additional funds on publicity.
Sanford claims that there is a shortage of revenues for states to accomplish what they should. He blames it on the public’s unwillingness to accept state taxes. He says that the states must have adequate tax programs. And what is that? He defines an adequate state program as one which provides funds necessary for handling competently the problems of the state and its people. That is rather a general statement. States do need funds for combating air pollution, water pollution; for providing urban and rural education, housing, police and fire protection, conservation, etc. He questions whether the funds from the federal income tax should come to the state and local governments for specific purposes only, as they have been in the past; or should they come to the state and local governments and let them decide how it should be spent.
The author favors an income tax credit plan wherein taxpayers can claim a certain percentage of their state income taxes as credit against federal income tax liability. And that Congress should construct a broad tax-sharing program wherein a certain percentage of federal income tax revenues would go to the states. There would be a portion reserved for the poorer states and the rest distributed on a population basis. This suggestion would achieve a moderate redistribution of the nation’s wealth, aiding those states which have reached taxing capacity yet are in greater need.
There is, however, little communication between line programs. There is little effort at coordination and much jealousy between departments and agencies with departments.
One of the most memorable examples of the consequences of Washington not being able to see the special needs of each area in the book has to do with Wyoming’s hassle with the United States Bureau of Public Roads. The federal government insisted that white lines be painted down the center of highways in Wyoming, as they are in all the other states. Wyoming tried to no avail convince the federal government that they should be yellow. After the first blizzard the federal government understood why Wyoming should be an exception to the rule. Apparently during blizzards white lines are invisible, but yellow lines can still be seen.
The national government sees in aggregate terms of national policy and procedures. Local communities see the world in narrow particular terms. Therefore, the author, concludes the states are the means of bringing the two different points of view together.
Most Americans agree that a single center of government is dangerous, but why should the states fill the role of making certain individual liberties are not ignored? Because they exist by the fundamental authority of the land, and cannot be summarily dismissed as can units of governments created by legislatures or executive act of national government.
Some of the proposals as outlined by the author are viable and may be effective. Others are not. Some have good elements. This book is basically about the necessity for the internal improvement of the state governments and how the people can influence this accomplishment. Those who agree on the need for stronger state governments will find in this book an enforcement of their views. Those uninterested or opposed to this need, will not be influenced to change their views or to take more of an interest.
Sanford, Terry. Storm Over the States. New York: Bobbs- Merrill, 1967.