At Politico, Anna Gronewold reports that coronavirus has prompted the creation of regional alliances of state governments, but they are finding it hard to coordinate the reopening of economies and government services.
Executive staff from the offices of multiple governors told POLITICO that they are in daily text, email and phone communication with their counterparts, an unheard-of arrangement during normal times. And the seven Northeast states — New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Delaware — announced Sunday that they would purchase medical supplies collectively to avoid competing with each other in the global marketplace.
That collaborative spirit, however, has been hard to conjure in other aspects of the regional restart.
“The problem we have with the regional compact is, if everyone's going to make their own decision, what’s the compact?” said New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney, a Democrat, in an interview. “From a distance, it doesn’t look like there is [a compact].”
Informal agreements among states happen all the time, said Bridget Fahey, a Sharswood Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Cary Law School who researches federalism. The high visibility of the recent binge of alliance-building is perhaps more telling than their actual content, she said. That doesn’t mean they don’t serve a useful purpose — for example, they can be effective in persuading residents that their individual governor isn’t the only one making controversial public health decisions.
But they have also served as a messaging mechanism, because states can rarely enter into a binding agreement without federal approval, said Yoo, the former Bush official.
“If they actually required states to do something, they would be an unconstitutional compact,” he said. “They always have more of a symbolic aspect to them.”
And there might even be another bit of symbolism at work as well, or so Yoo suggested.
“I don’t think the symbolism was pressuring the federal government,” he said. “It was more like giving the middle finger to the federal government.”