We like to think that we’re pretty sophisticated in most things pertaining to states and localities. But when we drive through our little town of Bethel, Connecticut, we can’t tell you who actually owns and maintains any individual road. Is it the state or the town? We can tell you for sure that it’s not the county, because Connecticut eliminated any responsibilities for counties years ago (right now, they’re pretty much just geographic lines on the map).
That makes things a lot easier in Connecticut than elsewhere, but it’s surprising to us how many people have little idea of the vast multitude of services that are delivered at the county level in most states.
Over the years, we’ve come to the conclusion that many, if not most, Americans don’t have much of a notion which level of government is responsible for what, and that citizen confusion just begins with road maintenance. That's one reason that intergovernmental relations are so complicated. People, for example, use the words jails and prisons interchangeably. But, of course, jails tend to be run by local jurisdictions like cities and counties, while prisons are the province of the states.
Then there are many of the social services that are run by non-profits. Some are funded by municipalities. Others are funded by counties. Others are funded by states or get no government money at all, from anybody. And in many cases the money that’s used for them by cities, counties and states originates with grants from the federal government.
Here’s another: Pretty much everybody knows that the Army is run by the federal government. But pause for a second and think about the National Guard. Is that a state or a federal operation? Turns out, that it’s both. “The National Guard remains under the command and control of their respective governors but is funded by the Department of Defense (DoD) according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. We had to look that up.
Why is this important? We call it the “Acid Rain Trickle Down Effect.”
It’s our theory that as the federal government has appeared to become increasingly dysfunctional – with many elected figures appearing to be more concerned with maintaining power than helping the people they represent live healthier, happier more productive lives – people are growing increasingly inclined to think that all levels of government are equally flawed.
We don’t think so. Many cities, counties and states are accomplishing important things right now. Certainly, there’s escalating partisanship at all levels of government, but while that can slow things down, nearly every week we’re learning about some state or locality that has made progress in an important arena.