Each year there is a constant debate at the Legislature centered around a bevy of bills that preempt the authority of local government.
For the most part, the proponents of “local control” for cities and counties hang their hat on the explanation that the superior government is always the one closer to the people. This argument it is rarely explored, explained, or expounded upon further than a convenient slogan meant to excuse government overreach and conflate the idea of federalism with granting more power to local government.
And that is the crux of the dispute. In virtually every case when state lawmakers have decided to preempt local government, the debate has not been about how much power the state should have, but whether more autonomy and freedom should be granted to individuals, families, and businesses. Indeed, if cities were truly concerned with having the most local entity be in control, they would be fighting for the individual.
Instead, advocates for more local power continue to make the absurd claim that cities deserve the same relationship the states share with the federal government. This flawed argument ignores that fact that, unlike the states that created the federal government, cities and counties are political subdivisions of Arizona. Any authority that they do have has either been expressly delegated to them through state law or the Constitution. Even the state Supreme Court ruled that local governments are not sovereign entities and must adhere to Arizona law.
Furthermore, attempting to elevate local governments in Arizona to the same status enjoyed by states in the U.S. Constitution is a poor argument for more local power and demonstrates a philosophical misunderstanding of federalism. As expressed in the Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence, America was founded on the idea that rights belong to the people, and that government remains the biggest threat to protecting those rights. If politicians decide to use their power to infringe on those freedoms, the geographic distance of that government is inconsequential. After all, is local tyranny better than state or federal tyranny?
It also cannot be ignored that in crafting a constitution of limited enumerated powers, the states granted the federal government the authority to regulate interstate commerce. This was a wise inclusion as it was a bulwark against states implementing protectionist laws that would infringe upon the free travel and commerce of citizens throughout the country.
Arizona’s constitutional framework similarly allows state lawmakers to oversee and regulate intrastate commerce in order to protect individuals and businesses operating in different jurisdictions. It was never the intent to allow cities to create a patchwork of onerous and inconsistent business regulations on issues such as minimum wage, plastic bags or bans on no-impact home-based businesses. When these situations do arise, it is the obligation of our state policymakers to step in and intervene.
It is high time that the local control argument be unpacked and receive the intellectual scrutiny it deserves. There have been too many instances where the local control defense has been used to justify freedom crushing eminent domain abuse, suppress voter turnout, and to infringe upon our free speech rights. If we are to argue for local control, let that control be divested to individuals, families, and businesses. After all, the spirit of America is not city council-determination, but self-determination.
— Scot Mussi is president and executive director of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club.
The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.