Dr. Eileen Lynch
Explain the pros and cons of federalism in dealing with transportation. When should the national government determine the law and when should the state government determine the law?
Eloquently expressed in the video lesson by the narrator, the 41,000 miles that connect the major cities in the North American continent are indeed the backbone of many vital activities between and within the states and for the nation at large. Many facets of commerce require ground transportation, and many Americans still depend on regular automobile transportation for their personal and business needs. And this is why, perhaps, the issue of transportation is the most direct exemplification of the benefits and liabilities of federalism within our nation.
In the textbook we are given a simple definition of federalism, or federal system, and it makes one wonder how such a simple concept could have such a difficult time in being translated to the arena of real life. In essence, federalism is the system of government where the national government shares its power with regional units of government (not only state but also local governments) as provided for by the Constitution. However, since its inception this system has always seeded strife and competition by its very nature. As we learned by reading some of the Federalist Papers written by Jay, Madison and Hamilton, the idea of federalism was slow to win the American hearts and needed much explanation and advertisement of its benefits before it became widely accepted. As a clear example of how slowly it was accepted and how prominent its liabilities loomed in the mind of its detractors, we could even cite the Civil War as an anti-federalism movement (although many other factors also propitiated such lamentable event).
In the specific matter of transportation, the video lesson introduces us to three people who have a specific point of view on how federalism should work. Michael Cox, of the Department of Public Safety, is quite passively-aggressively advocating for state control of the laws pertaining to the speed limit on interstate highways, although that is the law of the land at the present. We are told in the video that ninety percent of the money required for building and maintaining the interstate highway system comes from the federal government, and that the remaining ten percent is up to each individual state to fund on their own, but with the caveat that the money is only available as long as the states comply with sets of rules and regulations dictated by Congress. Also, we are told that the regulations for speed limits rest in the hands of each state unless there’s an overriding mandate by the federal government, like during the gas crisis of the 70’s. Then, we are told in the video by Jacqueline Gillian, from Advocates for Auto and Highway Safety, there was a wonderful benefit as a result of this speed limit decrease, in terms of lives saved. She mentions that a year after the mandatory national speed limit went into effect less lives were lost in traffic accidents for the first time in the history of our country. We also learn that, a year after President Clinton signed the law that repealed the national speed limit for highways in the 90’s, the mortality rate from traffic accidents increased over 17%! Rather subjectively, in my opinion, Ms. Gillian advocates for a federally controlled highway system, citing the restrictions imposed on air travel and how no one would feel comfortable having every single state choosing which laws to impose on it. As a retort, we see Representative (D-Texas) Max Sandlin advocating for a Texan decision made by Texans about what is good for
Although it is clearly obvious that a federalist approach to the administration of transportation might yield slightly better result in respect to the safety issue, it will forever be mired in the apparently eternal debate of how far the states can admit federal guidance without losing their precious autonomy.
Democracy Under Pressure: An Introduction to the American System, 10th Edition, Milton C. Cummings, Jr., David Wise, Thomson