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America’s Invisible Governmental Crisis: Intergovernmental Relations in a Time of Transition and Uncertainty

July 11, 2012

Memo Overview

The American intergovernmental system was one of the great institutional inventions of the Country’s founding fathers. It serves many purposes ranging from facilitating our democracy through the dispersal of political power, to enabling individuals in local communities to more carefully and strategically address the many problems that exist in a complex society. That this system has played a major role in facilitating the building and development of the American nation goes without saying. Nevertheless, this is a system that is currently in a state of crisis - in part because it has worked so effectively for so long that often little or no attention is paid to it. This is highly unfortunate since the American governmental system is an interlocking one in which the actions of each level impact upon each of the others.

Today, more than ever, the intergovernmental system faces multiple highly complex challenges. Many of these challenges are driven by fiscal factors, but not all of them. Political and administrative conflict, exacerbated by a highly polarized political environment, has dramatically lessened the capacity of the system for cooperation at a time when collaboration is desperately needed. While many proposals are being put forward to address the problems faced at the federal, state and local levels of government, rarely do those proposals recognize that they are highly dependent for successful implementation on circumstances that are often predetermined at another level of government.

To help the next Administration, the next Congress and our state and local governmental leaders to more effectively address these issues, a group of four individuals with long experience both studying and participating in the American governmental system has prepared the attached memo. These individuals have held senior positions in local, national and state government and have also written extensively about intergovernmental relations in the United States and abroad. The memo on “America’s Invisible Intergovernmental Crisis” provides important recommendations for reinvigorating the American intergovernmental system and the nation itself. Most significant in this regard are the calls for a joint federal, state and local reassessment of the nation's tax policies with a focus upon the introduction of a shared consumption tax and the need for the establishment of an institutional mechanism to facilitate intergovernmental collaboration.