Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Some encroachments on local control are justifiable; but the current class of WI Republicans are over-doing it

Question of local control comes down to issues of necessity vs. political preferences of state legislators

The Republican Party and the issue of local control holds an important place in today’s Cap Times. Writer Jessie Opoien takes a closer look:
Republicans have long heralded “local control” as a conservative principle worth protecting and preserving. But in Wisconsin, officials at the county and municipal levels say local control — the authority for cities, towns and counties to regulate what happens in their communities — has been eroding for decades. The pace has quickened since 2011, they say, in tandem with Republican control of the governor’s office and the Legislature.
Surely a talking point during this next election cycle will focus on Republicans taking away local control from communities, especially liberal cities like Madison or Milwaukee. But the Democrats should use caution when they bring this point about. There are times when local control is good, while other times state authority can be justly imposed.

The Republicans aren’t necessarily behaving irrationally when they put up legislation that strips local control. Rather, it’s the specific legislation they put up, and the motivations for those restrictions on municipalities that makes their power grab so obvious and dubious.

When a universal educational standard is proposed in the state legislature, hearing what it entails and whether it merits passage is important. We want to deliver a uniform education to all students in Wisconsin, ensuring that they learn important facets relevant to society and the history of our state.

In this regard, an argument in favor of local control doesn’t tend to make sense; why do you want the students in Milton to have an education that is different from the students in Mauston? Surely, there are subjects learned at each school that differ. But when it comes to statewide educational standards, there should be a reasonable approach that justifies encroaching a little bit on local authority.

Laws that hamper or restrict personal liberties at the local level are also justly overridden by state government. These issues can be resolved in the courts as well, but in putting them in their place right away, state government can limit an unjust municipal code that may hurt a certain segment of that community more than others.

Issues such as working conditions and wages, on the other hand, shouldn’t be subjected to state authority. If a local government decides that the employees within their jurisdiction should be paid higher salaries, why should they be restrained from doing so? If a municipality wants to grant its citizens a guaranteed number of sick days, what case can the state government make to override that decision? The state is obligated to show a compelling interest for quelling these laws, and thus far I cannot think of one that merits limiting what cities, towns, or villages do in this regard.

At a certain point, the debate becomes less an argument over uniformity and more an argument over political authority, where the party in power simply wants to manage the aspects of all governments, from Racine to Superior. When the debate focuses on the preference of state legislators rather than the necessity for uniform principles, local authority is well-worth defending.

The argument over the tug between local and state control mirrors that of state versus national control. Federalism works best when national interests are legislated over the states only when necessary to achieve a greater end. There are times, in fact, when the national government itself does cross the line, imposing mandates on the states that impede their own local authority. But there are other times when that encroachment is wholly justified as well.

When state Republicans do the same thing on a smaller scale, it borders on hypocritical. Like the federal government, there are times when the state has a compelling interest in drafting laws that impede local authority. But doing so comes with the understanding that it is through necessity, not political convenience or preference.

The Republicans in Wisconsin can’t harp on about the importance of “local control” while they’re out of power, then ignore the issue completely in drafting new laws that stomp on their previous talking point. They do a disservice to their own principles, which state in part that they believe “the most effective government is government closest to the people.”

The Democrats, likewise, shouldn’t be arguing against state authority -- there is a place for such authority, especially when it comes to legislating uniformity that is necessary for the state to have. What Democrats should do instead is argue over what that place is, and where the line is drawn, when it comes to controlling local governments’ actions.

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