Chris Edley comes up with a smart way to assist the states in managing their fiscal challenges -- advance them the money, but don't give it away. From his op-ed in The New York Times:
Here’s how this would work. States already receive regular federal matching grants to help pay for Medicaid, welfare, highway construction programs and more. For instance, the federal government pays a share of state Medicaid costs, from 50 percent to more than 75 percent, depending on a state’s wealth. The matching rates were temporarily sweetened by last year’s stimulus.
But Congress should pass legislation that would allow a state to simply get an “advance” on these future federal dollars expected from entitlement programs. The advance could then be used for regional stimulus, to continue state services and to hasten our recovery.
The Treasury Department, which writes the checks to the states, could be assured of repayment (with interest) by simply cutting the federal matching rate by the needed amount over, say, five years. Of course, when Treasury eventually collected what it was owed, the state would have to cut spending or find new revenue sources. But that would happen after the recession, when both tasks would likely prove easier economically and politically.
The federal government should be looking to get as much value for its spending, not just to spend money for the sake of spending it. Responding to calls for "grants" to states to avoid layoffs with a proposal to make "advances" to states is a step in that direction. It frees up the federal government to spend its resources on its own strategic objectives. Now, if only it could articulate such things ...