by Max Brantley
These new pre-emption laws echo 19th-century “ripper bills,” legal scholars say, state laws that ripped control from cities over their finances, utilities, police forces and local charters. The backlash against them helped spur the movement for local control in the United States. Now home rule is under a “troubling nationwide assault,” warn municipal lawyers and law professors, including Mr. Davidson, in an amicus brief supporting another legal fight, in Cleveland.Hypocrisy abounds.
There, Ohio passed a law blocking a longstanding requirement that city construction contracts hire some local workers. Cleveland, in other words, was trying to ensure that local projects created local jobs, alleviating local poverty.
Both state legislators and municipal groups agree that pre-emption laws have proliferated in the last few years in number and in the breadth of issues they touch. They disagree on who started the fight: states in stripping municipal power, or cities in seizing new roles that weren’t theirs to begin with.
The contrast between what’s happening in cities and the decentralized philosophy Republicans have championed from Washington is striking. The supremacy of local control is central to Republican plans for undoing Obamacare, rolling back regulations and leaving the federal minimum wage unchanged (wages, the party said in its platform last year, should be handled at the state and local level).With Republican dominance of legislatures at a record high (and well-protected by partisan districting) and the influence of cookie-cutter legislation sponsored by the American Legislative Exchange Council (a lobby for corporate interests like the Kochs) things seem likely to get worse.
As House Speaker Paul Ryan has put it: “Government closest to the people governs best.”
That government, many local legislators clarify now, is the state.