How federal, state and local governments are undermining federalism

Berlin Shortly before Christmas, Bundestag Vice President Yvonne Magwas brought the 3,600 residents the good news: “Bad Elster can tackle the expansion of the gym,” emblazoned above the constituency announcement of the CDU MPs. “The federal government provides extensive funds.”

Specifically, 4.13 million euros are now flowing into the Saxon Vogtland. The CDU politician also provided the reason: “The existing gymnasium with its usable area of ​​just under 240 square meters is no longer sufficient to adequately cover the needs of school and club sports.”

Germany is a federal state in which the federal government actually concentrates on tasks such as internal and external security, foreign policy or the equality of living conditions. The states, on the other hand, have a variety of tasks ranging from education and culture to state administration, for which the municipalities are also responsible and receive money from the states for this. That’s the theory.

But the pure teaching is no longer valid. The federal government has long financed the administrative units of the federal states. The refurbishment program alone, which people in Bad Elster and elsewhere in the state can look forward to, is worth almost 500 million euros.

Since 2020, the federal government has also been supporting cities and municipalities in the “adaptation of urban areas to climate change” and reimburses 85 percent of the costs. For example, the mayor of Koblenz, David Langner (SPD), recently received 850,000 euros. In the city on the Rhine, they want to green concreted areas again, plant cooling trees and create drainage and storage areas for rain. The “local climate” should improve.

Money flows for the community climate and culture

The Federal Building Ministry provides the money. The Federal Ministry for the Environment is also calling for “measures to adapt to the consequences of climate change”. But why don’t the federal states prepare their communities for climate change themselves and support relevant projects?

The federal states, together with the municipalities, have succeeded in “getting more and more money out of the federal government’s pocket”, says Reiner Holznagel, President of the Taxpayers’ Association, analyzing the development. “We are observing that this trend is increasing – also because the federal government is getting involved in state and local affairs in increasingly small parts.”

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In fact, there are no longer any limits to the imagination. Be it the many fleet renewal programs for the public utility company or the budget of the federal cultural commissioners, which has been increasing for years, with which the Minister of State personally selects and promotes projects. She wants to “strengthen the cultural infrastructure”, Claudia Roth (Greens) explains her intervention in the cultural sovereignty of the federal states and the budget, which has long been worth more than two billion euros.

children doing sports

The federal government is increasingly stepping in financially for municipalities – for example when new gyms are needed.

(Photo: dpa)

The federal government supports the municipalities with around 100 programs, as can be seen from the central funding database. The next intervention in the federal financial structure will be the 49-euro ticket. The federal government has imposed a tariff for the first time, which the local transport companies and public utilities in the state are now supposed to implement.

The federal government will subsidize the ticket directly, initially with 1.5 billion euros, regardless of warnings from the Federal Audit Office. The federal government will possibly even approve the tariff nationwide and thus take on a previously municipal task.

The federal government even finances staff for the municipalities

In the future, the federal government even wants to provide local authorities with staff so that they can approve large-scale projects more quickly. The federal government also wants to use money to accelerate the digitization of the official offices. The Federal Chancellery has proposed a corresponding pact to the federal states. The federal government also wants to pay project managers to the municipalities so that they set up charging stations, lay fiber optic cables or do something for the climate.

“Urban development subsidies, social housing, financing of judges, expansion of cycle paths, preservation of monuments, cultural events or the 49-euro ticket: the list of burdens on the highly deficit federal budget is hardly manageable,” says taxpayer president Holznagel. “The goals may be good, but such mixed financing blurs clear responsibilities and contradicts the idea of ​​federalism.”

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According to the Federal Budget Code, federal money may only flow if the federal government “has a significant interest that cannot be satisfied or cannot be satisfied to the necessary extent without the grants”. This results from a constitutional court ruling from 1967.

And yet constitutional lawyers take a critical view of the development. “From a constitutional point of view, the federal funding programs for municipal projects take place in a gray area,” Joachim Wieland told the Handelsblatt. “It eludes clear clarification above all because court decisions in this area are practically never made.”

The motto applies: where there is no plaintiff, there is no judge. “There is no reason for states and municipalities to complain if they receive money from the federal government,” said Wieland. And: “The federal government is satisfied when it achieves its goals with the ‘golden reins’ of using financial resources.”

And if the budget politicians can then distribute the money themselves, criticism is completely silenced. For the program, from which the small Saxon town of Elster is benefiting, the householders have not only released the funds for the municipal renovation program. You yourself have viewed the around 1,000 projects applied for, worth more than two billion euros, and decided which of them will receive the money. Of course, every budget politician also thinks of his constituency and party friends.

“The program is the best example of the Budget Committee self-service shop,” says the government critically. The fact that the members of parliament distribute the money themselves means nothing other than “that everyone gives his or her constituency a gift – with tax money”.

More: Fiber optic expansion: Bavaria receives the most funding from the federal government

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