Republicans: Look to States for Policy Innovation

Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton, combined with the Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress, has opened the door to enacting bold limited government and pro-growth policies at the federal level, including the repeal of Obamacare, tax reform, and reducing regulation. Yet, too often, liberty-minded proponents of limited government focus on Washington at the expense of what can be accomplished in the states.

With more than 151 million people living in the 25 states with Republican governors and Republican-controlled legislatures, the principles of federalism laid out by the Constitution provide the freedom movement with an opportunity. While capitalizing on Trump’s unexpected victory over Clinton, we should do more to mobilize support for good policy at the state level.

Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once famously wrote in New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann, “It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” While the concept of federalism articulated by the Tenth Amendment has been eroded by Democratic and Republican administrations and Congresses alike, there’s still a role for states as laboratories. They can enact infectious new policy ideas that, if successful, can catch the attention of Congress, spurring conservative reform at the federal level.

For example, one of the biggest challenges currently facing states is unfunded public-pension programs. A recent report from the Pew Charitable Trusts found that state-run pension programs, which offer benefits to state-government employees, faced more than $933 billion in unfunded liabilities in 2014. The total figure rises above $1.5 trillion when you include local pension programs. Conservatives rightly hope for entitlement reform at the federal level, the unfunded liabilities of which range from $55 trillion to $222 trillion, depending on the estimate. Addressing the ticking time bomb that unfunded state pensions represent will help us rise to meet the challenge posed by federal entitlements.

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