Jimmy Carter photo

Remarks at the National Press Club in Washington, DC

February 09, 1973

I will talk to you today strictly from the viewpoint of a governor who has seen state governments become stronger and more effective, but at the same time become hamstrung by recent developments in Washington.

We all serve the same people. In my Inaugural Address, I said that the public can best be served by a strong and independent executive working with a strong and independent legislature.

In Georgia and most other states, this is proving to be true. In Washington, this basic premise is being abandoned.

Since 1970, when new governors were being elected in Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Oklahoma, a constant stream of newsmen have been through Atlanta to ask about the New South.

I don't think there is any such thing as a New South, but there is definitely a "new freedom."

Let me tell you what I mean. I ran for governor for years. I made 1,800 speeches which I wrote myself, and contacted in person more than 600,000 Georgians.

I stood in factory shift lines at 5 o'clock in the morning and at midnight, and shook hands with customers in shopping centers and country stores.

Just a few years ago, this would not have been necessary.

A quiet and satisfactory backroom conversation with a judge or sheriff or banker or perhaps an editor could insure the delivery of the county's votes.

Then came the civil rights demonstrators and the students who showed the other citizens that a small voice could be heard and an injustice could be corrected by people who cared enough to express their concern.

The farmer, the filling station owner, and the taxicab driver may not have agreed with the goals or the tactics of these early movements, but he learned that they could produce results and he began to ask himself, "If they can do it, why can't I?"

Many Americans began to realize that powerful intermediaries between themselves and their public officials were neither necessary nor desirable. The voters attained an influence and a freedom which they had never had before.

This new freedom to speak out and to participate among average citizens has brought about a realization that few of the business or government leaders who make the decisions have ever felt personally the direct impact of government programs involving such things as prisons, welfare lines, employment agencies, manpower training, venereal disease control, school busing, or public housing.

It is well known that during the 1950's, many state governments deliberately abrogated their power rather than face up to the difficult decisions involving civil rights and other social problems.

Many governors then were handpicked and controlled by powerful special interests. Dynamic leadership had to come from Washington.

But I tell you that this is no longer the case. In state after state, there has been a demonstrated willingness, even an eagerness, to deal with tough problems.

We realize that to the states are reserved those constitutional powers not expressly granted to the federal authority in interpreting this principle.

However, the principle becomes significant with development of new problems or issues at the local level of government.

For instance, a question about environment, insurance, education, or land use planning first arises within a state and for a time may be of interest only in that particular community.

A dynamic and creative state government will move to solve the problem, will enact laws to deal with it, and then, through its experience, begin to establish a pattern of solution for possible nationwide emulation.

State government, properly used, can be a powerful force for solving problems and for strengthening our systems of federalism.

Like many other states, we have taken advantage of these changing attitudes in Georgia.

For instance, more than 50,000 citizens participated in evolving a definite set of goals for Georgia which prescribed optimum purposes of our state government for the next few years.

These goals are now being put into effect by me and the general assembly, in an orderly and almost inexorable manner.

Both the state government and the courts have liberalized eligibility for welfare payments, but with a strong emphasis on training and employment opportunity, we have leveled off the number of Georgians on our welfare rolls. Our last month's data show the first actual numerical reduction in many years.

After a full year of study, conferences, debates, and public forums, we eliminated 300 agencies in our government and substituted for them 22 well-coordinated departments. We were able to overcome inevitable and substantial opposition with massive public involvement.

We have also completely implemented for 2 years, what I believe to be the best budgeting system in the nation. Known as zero-base budgeting, the process divides state government into more than 11,000 individual functions. Each one is analyzed on a one sheet form by the person directly responsible for that function. He must analyze his responsibility, list the tangible achievements which measure his effectiveness and then describe how he would perform this job next fiscal year, at several levels of funding, beginning with 85 percent of his present budget. Old programs and new proposals are considered on the same basis.

Each department head then arranges these functions in order of priority. I approve the arrangement after consultation with the department head and then budget funds, as available, to each department.

This budget, with associated data, is presented to the general assembly for final approval.

It is perhaps the only practical means of controlling a bureaucracy.

Although I am sure all governors are making similar efforts, we are still dependent for successful public service on a viable state-federal relationship.

Programs and responsibilities are interrelated and supportive. We need to understand and seek a common national purpose.

Our state budgets are dependent on federal appropriations.

Even the balance of trade deficit has a direct adverse effect on the economy of individual states. The average or nationwide effect is bad enough, but the localized impact, when a particular kind of product is involved, can be even more serious. We governors have begun to protect ourselves and our business communities by direct action in the field of foreign trade. This past year, I visited five foreign nations and had trade representatives of more than twice that number as my guests in Georgia. In May, I shall be in five countries of Europe and the Middle East.

It is imperative that state and federal governments work together on other critical matters such as health care, land use planning, law enforcement, and energy supplies. We have little cooperation in these fields now. Our system of federalism was conceived to make such cooperation possible, and we have a responsibility to make the system work.

In summary, many state governments are now much more dynamic and competent than before, but our system of federalism is no stronger because there has been a steady deterioration in the effectiveness of government here in Washington, and also in the relationship between the state and federal governments.

When I became governor in 1971, I remembered the recent words of the President, and I quote: "I would disperse power instead of taking all power to myself, I would select Cabinet members who could do their jobs and each of them would have the stature and the power to function effectively. Publicity would not center at the White House alone. Your most creative people cannot develop in a monolithic, centralized, power setup."

Since we are particularly interested in such things as environment and social programs, I began to study the attitudes of those independent and creative officials who had the stature to insure a lasting influence—men like Walter Hickel and Pat Moynihan.

We then established a tracking system for federal legislation and provided a continuing analysis from the state's viewpoint to our senators and congressmen. After the vetoes were overriden, we planned our state programs and budgets accordingly. At that time, I had not heard of impoundment

We applauded with anticipation the highly publicized concept of a new federalism—getting the decision making process closer to the people—and we are now beginning our fifth year of anticipatory applause.

Nowadays we seem to have federal government by crisis and surprise. Decisions are made in secrecy and consultations are few.

Our contacts as state officials are mostly with the Congress and sometimes with a Cabinet officer.

Final decisions, however, are made by the Ehrlichman's the Haldeman's and the Ash's. I don't know them and I have no access to them. Neither, unfortunately, do most of our congressmen.

In spite of a balanced budget and a dynamic economy, our state funds are limited. Revenue sharing has been a cruel hoax. Our state's $36 million in revenue sharing, per year, was offset by $57 million in lost funds when the Title IV-A and Title 16 sections of the Social Security law were first amended—and now they are even further drastically reduced.

The President's proposed new budget will cut Georgia payments on programs at least $174 million more. Impoundment of appropriated funds has already debilitated our efforts to plan and construct interstate highways, to provide compensatory education to the poor, and to finance municipal sewerage systems.

Many of these government efforts are inherently dependent on federal funding. You must remember that when the gross national product goes up 100 percent, local income, which is based primarily on property tax, only rises 70 percent. State revenues increase about 95 percent and the progressive federal taxes go up 130 percent. Consequently, abrupt changes in national program funding can be devastating to a state.

I consider myself a fiscal conservative. To me, the essence of that conservatism is an orderly, logical, and planned approach to problems and to the allocation of public funds.

The responsible, predictable, businesslike approach to federal legislation, appropriations, and budgeting simply does not exist. This is creating havoc in all states, but particularly in those whose legislatures meet briefly or sometimes every other year.

I prepare budget projections 5 years in the future. Of our $$2 1/2 billion 1974 budget, about three-quarters of a billion dollars are federal funds.

How do you encourage local and state officials as well as private citizens and groups to develop long-range plans and well researched priorities based on federal law when all their work may be shot to pieces by a sudden and apparently capricious decision in Washington?

What encouragement is there to try to make a program run right in Waycross, Georgia, when it may be wiped out because a similar effort was mismanaged somewhere in California?

I represent and speak for almost 5 million people who are harmed by these developments.

To the dairy farmer, expecting emergency farm loans to replace cows which were ruined by a lack of electricity for milking during a 5-day ice storm, it's not enough to say, "Ask what you can do for yourself."

To the mentally afflicted child who had just begun to enjoy his first chance for treatment and training in a community treatment center, which is now closed, it is not enough to say, "Ask what you can do for yourself."

To the mother of dependent children, holding her first job in 8 years through the emergency employment program, who will now return to the welfare rolls, it is not enough to say, "Ask what you can do for yourself."

To the homeowners, the contractors, the construction workers, and the merchants who would have benefitted in the next 18 months from almost $300 million worth of new housing in Georgia, which now will not be built, it is not enough to say, "Ask what you can do for yourself."

We, in Georgia, are willing to do our share, but the state-federal partnerships are being dissolved.

I cannot understand what are our common national goals. They should be defined with maximum input from the Congress, from private citizens, and local and state governments.

What will happen now that we have finally accepted the status quo in Vietnam?

I cannot understand how or why the Congress has lost control of the budgetary process and virtually legalized it with the debt ceiling bill.

In order to protect our people, unauthorized impoundment of funds should be stopped, and the Congress should demand the immediate return of its constitutional powers. Post-impoundment notification of Congress will not help.

It seems to me that a zero-base budgeting system should be implemented by the Executive Branch of government and that a maximum spending limit adopted by both Houses of Congress could provide clear and firm restraints on total congressional appropriations. Such action would insure a continuing and understandable determination of national financing priorities.

Intimidation of the press should cease, and the veil of secrecy should be removed from government so special interests will not maintain exclusive access behind the closed doors.

We have a sunshine law in Georgia. There is a Freedom of Information Act at the federal level. There is room for legislative action to improve the impact of both, but there is no legislative remedy for the attitude that the people are too ignorant or too unsophisticated to be told what is really happening.

Budget cuts can be reinstated, vetoes can be overridden, and policies can eventually be changed, but there is no way to rectify the damage that results from governmental contempt of the people. I hope that you, who are charged with letting the people know what is being done to them, will conduct a holy war to expose and eliminate that attitude of contempt wherever it exists.

The sunshine law is working in Georgia. The deliberations of our legislature and its committees are filmed each day by educational television and broadcast nightly throughout the state.

If other news media and the Public Broadcasting System could record the deliberations of the national Congress and make frequent and comprehensive reports to the nation, public confidence might be restored and an effective forum would be guaranteed to the Legislative Branch of government. Last year, the House Appropriations Committee, here in Washington, opened to the public only 33 of its 399 meetings. Do you think the lobbyists got a full report? As a governor, I would like to have the same information.

It would help us if congressional committee staffs could be enlarged and professional staff members could spend more time with appropriate state agencies as major legislation is being considered.

I have been gratified by the cooperation and communication that has been established between our state government and the members of the Georgia congressional delegation—of both parties.

But if the unhealthy shift of power toward the federal executive with its attendant problems is to be reversed, all governors and Members of Congress are going to have to realize that we are in the same leaky boat.

Both Congress and the governors have been partially responsible for allowing the shift to take place. Only by concerted, common effort can it be reversed.

Well, with all of these concerns, one might ask about election mandates which allegedly gave prior blanket approval to recent administration attitudes.

The mood of the people, in my opinion, is one of basic conservatism. But one has to be careful about the definition of the word.

Conservatism does not mean racism. It does not mean stubborn resistance to change. It does not mean callousness or unconcern about our fellow human beings.

I think it means a higher valuation of the human being, of individuality, self-reliance, dignity, personal freedom; but I also think it means increased personal responsibility through governmental action for alleviating affliction, discrimination, and injustice.

Reinhold Neibuhr said that the purpose of politics is to establish justice in a sinful world.

As more of our citizens choose to exercise their existing new freedom and as the conglomerate and more unselfish will of the people is felt on government, I predict that we shall see an emergence of what might be called benevolent conservatism. There are many conservative people who care.

They want government to play a more dynamic role in insuring that each person can overcome affliction and realize his full potential and achieve maximum personal freedom.

They perhaps agree with the ancient Chinese philosopher Kuang Hsu, who said, "You give a man a fish, he has one meal; if you teach him how to fish, he can feed himself for life."

This is a time for benevolent conservatism.

I may be wrong, but I hope and believe that this is true.

Jimmy Carter, Remarks at the National Press Club in Washington, DC Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347649

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