After losing control of the presidency after the 2016 election, and already having been kicked out of power in Congress and in many states, progressives are taking advantage of their hold on local government. But many of their actions are undermining state laws and policies.
The result? Punished taxpayers.
At the federal level, President Trump has signed into law bills that cut burdensome regulations and enhance energy development, and he is now promoting pro-growth tax reform. In the states, conservative governors have worked with their legislatures to advance free-market principles. Low-tax, right-to-work, low-regulation states dramatically outperform their big-government counterparts in prosperity, leading Americans to vote with their feet by moving to states with healthy economies. Democrats have borne the brunt of this anger and are now shut out of lawmaking in huge swaths of the country: 26 states are controlled entirely by Republicans; only six states are controlled entirely by Democrats.
To compensate for this enormous disadvantage, progressives are turning to the one place where they still have significant power. In cities and counties across the country, liberal politicians and bureaucrats are trying to see who can become the most effective leader of the "resistance."
When Trump withdrew the U.S. from the job-crushing Paris Climate Agreement, hundreds of mayors went out of their way to defy the president. (Of course, no mayor's portfolio includes foreign policy.) It was not just mayors from New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago who rebelled: Mayors of cities in red states, such as Bozeman, Mont., Chattanooga, Tenn., and Carmel, Ind., were also involved.
Liberal local officials throughout the country are engaging in many other forms of economically-destructive behavior. In Georgia, Mayor Kasim Reed and the Atlanta City Council raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour for city employees, with taxpayers footing the bill. The Philadelphia City Council passed a highly regressive 1.5 cent-per-ounce soda tax, driving consumers outside the city. In Colorado, two jurisdictions attempted to ban fracking. They were rebuffed by the Colorado Supreme Court, which upheld the authority of the legislature, not localities, to set fracking policy.
Other states are asserting their authority over local governments. The Texas legislature cracked down when Austin forced out the ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft. State legislators in Idaho prohibited cities in the state from banning plastic bags, as proposed by environmentalists.
The actions of liberal localities negatively affect entire states by creating patchworks of laws and regulations, threatening economic stability, undermining business confidence, and uprooting the free market. These bad ideas do not have to carry the day. In fact, conservative governors and legislators who are fighting back have history and the law on their side.
The view that local governments should be able to run wild is not deeply rooted in American tradition. The Constitution does not say a word about cities. The Tenth Amendment provides that "[t]he powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
Just as the states acted to create the federal government, so also have the states established local governments, a process governed by the Dillon Rule (or Dillon's Rule). Named for Judge John Forrest Dillon, who wrote about this balance of power, the rule makes clear that municipalities enjoy only those powers that are explicitly granted to them by the states. The exact contours of the rule vary in the 31 states that apply the Dillon Rule. In most of these states, the legislature has a significant degree of control over what a county, city, or village can do.
Conservative legislators and governors should continue to work together to assert, or reassert, their proper authority. Local politicians who wish to exercise too much autonomy or undermine policies and laws enacted by their state must be a major focus of the upcoming 2018 state legislative sessions.
Spencer Chretien (@SpencerChretien) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is state policy manager at Citizens Against Government Waste.
If you would like to write an op-ed for the Washington Examiner, please read our guidelines on submissions here.