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Crossover Sanctions

Last Updated: 2006

Crossover sanctions are fiscal sanctions applied to one government program in order to influence policy in another program area. Because the sanction withholds money in a program separate from the one where the change is desired, the sanction is said to “cross over.” Crossover sanctions are most common in federal programs where Congress wants to induce change in state policy but lacks the authority to preempt the states in that particular area. These coercive sanctions are based on Congress’s constitutional authority to spend for the general welfare.

Crossover sanctions began with the Hatch Act of 1939, which sanctioned federal grants-in-aid programs if states failed to use merit principles in selecting and promoting state personnel financed with federal funds. In 1965, after states failed to respond to a federal bonus program and regulate billboard advertising along new interstate highways, Congress added a crossover sanction to the Highway Beautification Act to withhold 10 percent of a state’s highway construction funds if the state failed to comply with the new federal billboard control requirements. In the Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act of 1974, Congress stopped all federal funds for highway construction projects in any state with a speed limit greater than 55 mph. This provision was repealed in 1995, and 33 states immediately raised their speed limits. Congress applied the threat of withholding federal highway funds again in 1984 to persuade states to raise their minimum alcohol drinking age to 21.

Crossover sanctions are one means by which Congress uses federal aid to influence state and local policies over which it has no constitutional authority, legal oversight, or enforcement mechanisms.

SEE ALSO: Crosscutting RequirementsFiscal FederalismGrants-in-AidIntergovernmental RelationsPreemptionWelfare Policy


Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (ACIR), Regulatory Federalism: Policy, Process, Impact and Reform, A-95, February (Washington, DC: ACIR, 1984), 7–11; and Joseph F. Zimmerman, “National-State Relations: Cooperative Federalism in the Twentieth Century,” Publius: The Journal of Federalism 31, no. 2 (Spring 2001): 15–30.