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Chapter VI

PRINCIPLES OF INTERGOVERNMENTAL ACTION Advocates of metropolitan reorganization and of other efforts to strengthen governments in metropolitan areas place great emphasis on local action. Reform movements to improve the capacity of local governments to deal with metropolitan problems usually arise from within the metropolitan area itself. Various problems perceived at the local level-inadequate water supply, stream pollution, traffic congestion—often stimulate citizen groups and public officials to take a fresh look at the governmental arrangements available to them, and to propose whatever changes seem appropriate for getting on with the job at hand.

Yet the State government necessarily becomes involved in local reform efforts, since it must provide authorization for local government action. As the cases of water supply and relocation make clear, State participation may go well beyond the role of authorizing local arrangements. In addition, Federal programs have a significant impact on the conduct of government in metropolitan areas. Governments within metropolitan areas are in fact linked by financial, legal, and administrative ties to the States and the Federal Government, and public services and policies in urban areas are strongly influenced by the actions of higher levels of government.

Within the federal system of the United States, the States and the Federal Government can use their powers and resources in many ways to cope with metropolitan area problems. Although local government reorganization has received most attention in the literature dealing with urban problems, the use of the federal system is an equally valid approach and has been highly effective in practice. The Commission has studied the metropolitan impact of State and Federal policies and has recommended a series of intergovernmental measures to meet metropolitan needs. An important part of this work has been the development of a philosophy of intergovernmental action rooted in the basic concepts of the American federal system. This chapter will review the principles that the Commission has put forward as a basis for intergovenmental relations in metropolitan areas; the following chapter will summarize the Commission's recommendations to the States and the Federal Government.


The division of powers between the Federal Government and the States is a direct expression of the political philosophy of federalism in the Constitution. It reflects the conviction that a territorial division of authority, as well as a series of checks and balances in the National Government, offers protection for individual liberties. The principles of federalism may be regarded as a historical heritage, but each generation has adapted them to cope with its own problems, Their contemporary significance is thus a cumulative result of national experience as well as of historic origin.

The most recent general review of the current status and effectiveness of the federal system was undertaken between 1953 and 1955 by the U.S. Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, better known as the Kestnbaum Commission. The conclusions in the Commission's report to the President are a useful starting point for establishing a philosophy of intergovernmental relations in metropolitan areas. These conclusions have served as the basis for much of the work of the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, which was established in 1959, pursuant to a recommendation of the House Committee on Government Operations, to give continuing attention to governmental relations within the Federal framework.

The Kestnbaum Commission found that the federal system, with its division of authority between the National and State Governments, offers many clear advantages for a nation as large and diverse as the United States. It has facilitated wide participation in government, maintained local initiative, provided laboratories for research and experimentation in government, and bolstered the principle of citizen consent. In addition to the basic division between the Federal and State Governments, the States have established a further division of authority between the State, its counties, and municipalities. This division has enabled local option to prevail on a wide variety of issues and has fostered a diversity of values and policies—including many in opposition to those prevailing in Washington at any particular time.

Flexibility has been one of the main characteristics of the federal system, in the view of the Kestnbaum Commission. The system has proved workable under a variety of changing conditions as well as changing public expectations. It has had to cope with a vast increase in the population of the United States and an unparalleled diversity of ethnic and racial groups, the industrialization of the economy, revolutions in transportation and communication, the emergence of the United States as a world power, and the changing values that have assigned to government a major role in promoting social and economic welfare. These developments have led to modifications in the system, and there has been a vast enlargement of Federal Government activity and authority. Nevertheless, the continued vitality of State and local government is evidence that the principle of strong, independent levels of government has been maintained throughout this process of adaptation.

The growth of metropolitan areas poses a current challenge not only to the local governments in these areas but to the entire federal system and its capacity to govern effectively. There has been special concern that local governments are bypassing the States and turning directly to Washington for help with urban problems, and that both the States and the localities may be unable to cope with the forces un

1 Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, Message from the President of the United States Transmitting the Final Report of the Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, Pursuant to Public Law 109, 83d Cong. (Washington : Government Printing Office, 1955). The following discussion summarizes material presented in the introduction and first 2 chapters of this report.

U.S. Congress, House of Representatives, Committee on Government Operations, Federal-State-Local Relations: Federal Grants-in-Aid, 85th Cong., 2d sess., H. Rept. No. 2533, p. 51.


leashed by metropolitan development. Despite these current strains, the federal system continues to provide a sound framework for meeting the social and economic needs of metropolitan areas, in the view of the Advisory Commission. What is needed, however, is a continuing process of adaptation and a fresh look at the allocation of governmental responsibilities in the light of metropolitan conditions.

A fundamental point in the philosophy of the Commission, therefore, is that the problems of intergovernmental relations are not likely to yield to simple or sweeping solutions. Modifying the federal systern is more a matter of making incremental changes based on a pragmatic approach to problems. Senator Muskie, a member of the Advisory Commission, observed recently:

I think the Commission was created in 1959 in response to a long-growing concern on the part of many people that the federal system was breaking down and that the State and local levels of government were weakening in their ability to deal with their problems. I think there was a feeling on the part of some that such a commission could find some magic formula ; that in one or two strokes it could suddenly clarify the whole thing, reinvigorate State and local governments and roll back the tide of centralization in Washington.

* Members of the Commission * * * have found that this job of strengthening the federal system is a brick-by-brick proposition; that it calls for meticulous analysis and evaluation of the manner in which the system works * * *.3

Intergovernmental measures to cope with metropolitan problems cannot, therefore, be derived solely from a theoretical allocation of governmental responsibilities, but certain general principles can be developed to assist in the analysis of particular issues. The Kestnbaum Commission has provided several broad principles concerning a proper division of activities between the Federal Government and the States. The basic purpose of the division of powers is “to provide a climate that favors growth of the individual's material and spiritual potential.”. This is the proper use of governmental power, and a balanced division of authority requires effective and responsible government toward this end at all levels. Further, the Kestnbaum Commission noted: The States have responsibilities not only to do efficiently what lies within their competence, but also to refrain from action injurious to the Nation; the National Government has responsibilities not only to perform, within the limits of its constitutional authority, those public functions the States cannot perform, but also to refrain from doing those things the States and their subdivisions are willing and able to do.

These principles invite further questions: Which activities lies within the competence of the States? Which functions are the States and localities unable to perform? Within the framework of the federal system, is it possible to identify principles of State responsibility and State-local relations, as well as conditions justifying national action and a Federal Government role in metropolitan affairs?


Particularly since the depression of the 1930's, local governments have learned to take their problems to Washington rather than to the State capital when they need outside help. Among the many factors operating here, the unequal apportionment of State legislatures was important in weakening the political leverage of urban areas at the statehouse, while the strength of metropolitan voters in national elections encouraged a more sympathetic hearing in Congress or the executive branch. Many observers of metropolitan affairs pay proper respect to the inherent responsibility of the States to assist local governments in metropolitan areas, but then point to the indifference of rural-dominated legislatures, State constitutional restrictions, and the difficulties of raising additional State revenue. They then conclude that the only practical approach to dealing with metropolitan problems is for local governments to develop still stronger ties directly with Washington.

*U.S. Congress, Senate, Committee on Government Operations, Subcommittee on Intergovernmental Relations, Hearings, Intergovernmental Cooperation Act of 1965, 89th Cong., ist sess., 1965, p. 59.

Conmission on Intergovernmental Relations, op. cit., p. 4. . Ibid.

The Advisory Commission has reached more positive conclusions about the role of the States. There are indeed many obstacles impeding more effective State action, but changes are underway, and there are compelling reasons for continuing efforts to enlarge the State role. Rural domination of State legislatures has already been altered by reapportionment in many States and more will follow. Despite remaining obstacles, the States occupy a key position in the federal system for coping with problems of government in metropolitan areas. Only the State can authorize local government action and exercise proper supervision of such matters as incorporation, annexation, and Īocal transfers of functional responsibility. The State, as a level of government encompassing entire metropolitan areas, is in a position to overcome many of the difficulties resulting from fragmented local responsibility and disparities between service needs and tax jurisdictions. The State can tap the economic resources of the entire metropolitan area and bring these resources to bear on local needs. Further, it can use its powers of taxation and distribution of aid to furnish a measure of equalization, thus enabling poorer localities to meet minimum standards of service. Regulation, assistance, and equalization are three important metropolitan functions that the States are well equipped to handle.

The Council of State Governments has made many of these points in a recent discussion of State responsibilities:

State government possesses singular qualifications to make profound and constructive contributions to urban regional development practice. The State is, in fact, an established regional form of government. It has ample powers and financial resources to move broadly on several fronts. Far-ranging State highway, recreation, and water resource development programs, to name a few, have had and will continue to have great impact on the development of urban and regional areas. Moreover, the State occupies a unique vantage point, broad enough to allow it to view details of development within its boundaries as part of an interrelated system, yet close enough to enable it to treat urban regional problems individually and at first hand.

Strong State leadership will in the long run determine its role within the Federal system in influencing the character of development within its boundaries. In the past, the extent to which local governments, especially in metropolitan areas, have leap-frogged the States to seek Federal assistance for urban renewal, planning, and area redevelopment purposes, suggests that many States have been slow to respond to this challenge.

The case for strong State participation in metropolitan affairs is thus based not only on the State's legal powers and capacity to raise

6 State Responsibility in Urban Development: A Report to the Governors' Conference (Chicago : The Council of State Governments, 1962), pp. 17-18.



revenue from metropolitanwide sources, but also on its unique vantage point. State technical assistance as well as financial aid is warranted, not because technical expertise is lacking at the local level but because a centralized grasp of areawide problems is likely to be lacking. As for financial aid, the Federal Government has undertaken many programs of direct local grants to which most States make no contribution at all. If “States responsibilities as well as States rights” is not to be an empty slogan, State government must accept the principle that taxpayers of the State have a greater responsibility than taxpayers of the Nation in financing local government activities within the State. Extending Federal aid to local governments while the respective States stand idly by is incompatible with the philosophy of the federal system. If any function of local government is critical enough to receive the attention and assistance of the Congress, then it is axiomatically critical enough to receive the attention and assistance of the State. Yet in fields such as urban renewal and public housing, Federal programs receive little State support. At present, only 5 States participate in urban renewal financing and only 14 extend some form of aid to local governments for subsidized housing.

State inaction only tends to make more persuasive the argument for increased intervention by the Federal Government. More vigorous State action would not eliminate the need for Federal programs in metropolitan areas; many are fully justifiable in any case. But without strong State participation, Federal programs tend to become more direct and to prescribe highly specific local actions, to the detriment of the overall structure of National-State-local relations within the federal system. Unless the States take a more active role, the final result is likely to be a much wider assertion of direct Federal action and control than either States or local governments or the people themselves would otherwise be willing to accept.

THE ROLE OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT While the major responsibility for solving metropolitan problems lies with State and local governments, many considerations, including the number and size of interstate metropolitan areas, make these problems a national issue demanding national action. Economic consideration alone, and the predominant position of the metropolitan areas in the national economy, are sufficient to make the development of these areas a vital concern of the Federal Government.

Outside a specifically metropolitan context, the Kestnbaum Commission identified a number of general conditions justifying national action: 7

1. “When the National Government is the only agency that can summon the resources needed for an activity.” National defense and fiscal and monetary controls are two general examples. In the metropolitan field, FHA mortgage insurance and urban renewal have both been supported on this basis.

2. “When the activity cannot be handled within the geographic and jurisdictional limits of smaller governmental units, including those that could be created by compact.” River basin development programs and pollution control in interstate waters are illustrations.

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