THIS IS OUR MOST challenging decade since the Great Depression. As a shrinking minority in the world, we must forge a national unity to confront foreign competition, our aging industries and the painful limits on energy and resources.
There must be a national investment strategy that promotes investment in people and technology. This effort demands that all Americans pull together in a framework of cooperation among the states, business, labor and our national government.
Viewed from this perspective, President Reagan's State of the Union address was a major setback. In place of measures to reinvigorate a sick economy, the president has plunged the country into an esoteric debate over who pays for Medicaid and how food stamps are distributed.
The New Federalism is a bureaucratic reshuffling that threatens to tear apart our national fabric. Instead of dealing with the problem of restoring Detroit, meeting the foreign challenge and taking care of the less fortunate, the Reagan administration is passing national responsibilities to state governments already overburdened with spending deficits. The Trojan horse is moving deeper into our national conscience.
The president's failure to offer more than just a few platitudes about the 9.5 million people looking for work is shameful. But worse is his lack of understanding of the consequences of putting unfair burdens on the states.
I am concerned that the 50 states will become competing colonies in their drive for more business investments.
Businesses will come to my state, for example, and say, "Okay, governor, if you want us to set up shop here, you're going to have to lower taxes. If you don't we can get a better deal in another state."
If the states lower their taxes they will not have enough money for the programs the president is now shifting to them.
The new federalism sets up a system of winners and losers among the states. But the real losers are the working poor, the elderly and the sick. This is unfair.
Equally unfair is the president's proposed solution: federal transfer to the states of revenues generated by excise taxes on gasoline, liquor, etc. Such taxes fall most heavily on average Americans while barely touching the well-to-do. These taxes do not grow with the economy and are, therefore, insufficient to meet anticipated needs. The gasoline tax is going to decrease with greater conservation and fuel efficiency. Liquor and cigarette taxes grow very modestly, if at all, compared to the corporation and income taxes that our social programs have relied on in the past.
The president's emphasis on nuclear weapons will also do little for the long-term health of our economy and it may well divert talent from urgent civilian priorities.
Mr. Reagan's message is simple: Reshuffle government and let business take care of everything else.
Rather than unfocused tax breaks, we need to target scarce capital to the growth industries of the future: electronics, semi-conductors, robotics, bio-science, communications and aerospace.
The president's 50 percent cutbacks in job training and other reductions in science and engineering education and research are serious omissions in his programs.
Our society is undergoing a transition to an information society which is reshaping our nation. Business Week has estimated that 45 million existing jobs will become obsolete, most in the next 20 years. Xerox has predicted that 60 million Americans will be linked to electronic work stations by 1995 and that 36 million workers will need to be computer-literate. The Japanese, with half our population, turn out more electrical engineers than we do. Students in Japan study three times more math and science than their counterparts in our country.
Rather than retrenchment, we need a push rivaling that of the post-Sputnik era to provide research and technological literacy -- more math, science and computer instruction. We need the three Cs -- computing, calculating and communicating through technology -- to augment our traditional concerns for the three Rs. We must also undertake a major retraining effort to equip workers for the surging high-technology industries.
We need, in short, a national summons to excellence rather than a wrenching debate about how to redistribute crumbs from a shrinking pie.
The bottom line is that we will see our nation pulled apart unless together we promote resource-efficient growth that benefits all Americans.
Ironically, I find decentralizing government a very attractive idea. But my problem with the president's program is that it is built on a $100 billion deficit and a naive faith that the profit motive will mysteriously mitigate the growing inequities in the land.
Since the president is loath to relinquish his tax breaks, how else can he close the growing deficits except by shifting the financial burden to the states.
Since some states are far better off than others in terms of wealth and growth potential, I see a formula for divisiveness and regional rivalries.
I believe states can assume greater responsibility for transportation, local government and education, but only if the national government does its part to help those people in those areas particularly in need; and only if the nation adopts a game plan to create sustainable economic growth; and only if we successfully meet the onslaught of foreign competition.
We have always been a resourceful, innovative, hard-working nation. Now is not the time to be defensive, to hold back or shirk responsibilities. We must focus our resources on our greatest assets, namely our people and our technology. This requires a national consensus in a framework of cooperation and not a society broken up into 50 disconnected parts.