Federal mandates are a tool of the federal government. This tool orders states to carry out tasks that are deemed in the best interest of the country. These mandates have been used to demand equality for all citizens, insure a healthy workplace, and protect the environment. The downside to this tool however, is that mandates are largely unfunded. This financial burden on the states is a factor in making the state-federal relationship strained.
Unfunded mandates are used because they make the job of the federal government vastly easier. By making the states responsible for the reforms, the reforms are left in the hands of those who know how to best implement them. State governments know the best way to meet federal regulations for their own states. Because the costs are left to the states it saves the federal government money. Also, because the federal government does not have to worry about funding the mandates, it can enact change quickly with no concern about how to finance the change.
By making their job easier, the federal government is sacrificing money and manpower belonging to the states and local governments. Because the reforms must be paid for, the states must foot the bill. This means that state programs will either lose their funding, or that additional revenue must be raised. The most obvious way to raise revenue is to increase taxes, something that all elected officials dread doing. These unfunded mandates mean that the state and local officials are less free to enact their own legislation. Their choices are either to cut programs, or if they raise taxes risk being voted out of office.
This conflict between the federal government desiring their legislation to be carried out by the local governments, and the local governments desiring to enact their own legislation...