Quoting from last week’s NYT: “Blue Cities Want to Make Their Own Laws. Red States Won’t Let Them” …
At a time when Democrats are locked out of power from the White House, both chambers of Congress, the majority of governor’s offices and three-fifths of the country’s state houses, their ideas at least have one reliable outlet. Democrats still control most of the country’s biggest cities.
Even that power center, though, is increasingly under attack.
In the last few years, Republican-controlled state legislatures have intensified the use of what are known as pre-emption laws, to block towns and cities from adopting measures favored by the left. The states aren’t merely overruling local laws; they’ve walled off whole new realms where local governments aren’t allowed to govern at all.
The pattern has worsened a different kind of partisan war beyond Washington, where the political divide cuts not just across the aisle, but across different levels of government. As standoffs between red states and blue cities grow more rancorous, the tactics of pre-emption laws have become personal and punitive: Several states are now threatening to withhold resources from communities that defy them and to hold their elected officials legally and financially liable. …
States have banned local ordinances on minimum wage increases, paid sick days and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. They’ve banned “sanctuary cities.” They’ve even banned a number of bans (it’s now illegal for Michigan cities to ban plastic bags, for Texas towns to ban fracking).
A law passed in Arizona last year threatens to withhold shared state revenue from local governments that adopt ordinances in conflict with state policy. Texas’ new sanctuary city law imposes civil fines as high as $25,500 a day on local governments and officials who block cooperation with federal immigration requests. And it threatens officials who flout the law with removal from office and misdemeanor charges.
Seattle is certainly in its own fight with the Trump administration over Seattle’s status as a “Sanctuary” (or Welcoming) City... Or “Constitutional City,” as we like to call it.
And as Erica C. Barnett reported earlier this year, the Republican-controlled Washington state senate waged a war on Washington cities during this year’s legislative session; (luckily, they don’t control the house or the governor’s mansion yet.)
Among the sixteen bills Republicans proposed to preempt local laws (mostly in Seattle): Republican state legislators tried to stop Seattle from allowing safe consumption sites and from instituting an income tax. The GOP also tried to undo Seattle’s existing paid family leave law, existing tenants rights ordinances, and labor rights for Seattle Uber drivers.
The legislature also attacked urban transit; they tried to upend locally-approved Sound Transit light rail with a “governance” bill (though it ultimately failed.) They were successful, though, with cowed Democrats’ support, taking some funding away from Sound Transit.
Of course, the Trump administration went after urban transit projects too, including projects in Seattle such as light rail Madison BRT.
Cool footnote: The Democrats in Olympia actually ended up passing statewide paid family leave as part of the budget deal this session.
And another cool footnote: Seattle passed a high-earners income tax this week.
Here are the mayor’s remarks:
Thank you to Trump Proof Seattle.
Thank you for bringing your campaign for equity to City Hall.
As you know, Washington state has the most regressive tax system in the nation, putting a disproportionate tax burden on low-income people.
*By relying on regressive sales taxes, the poorest people in our state are forced to pay close to 17 percent of their incomes in taxes while the richest pay just 2.4 percent of their incomes in taxes.
Thankfully, while we have the most regressive tax system in the nation, Washington state also has the most progressive CITY in the nation.
And today, Seattle will challenge this state’s antiquated and unsustainable tax structure when it passes historic legislation that institutes an income tax—a progressive tax on our highest earners.
Thank you to council members Herbold and Sawant for partnering with me on this overdue legislation.
Of course, this legislation will face a legal challenge. And we welcome that fight.
Because: It is a fight for economic sustainability. It is a fight for economic equity. And it is a fight for economic justice.
This is Seattle’s fight.
The Trump administration—
with its threats to pull federal funding from Seattle because of our welcoming immigration policies…
and with its austere budget that cuts transportation, affordable housing, health care, and social services,
Certainly added urgency to this fight.
But we are not simply making Seattle Trump proof.
This is a fight to fortify Seattle against the state’s longstanding formula of injustice.
Make no mistake. Our goal today is to replace our regressive tax system with new formula for fairness.
One that will allow us to raise $140 million a year by taxing every dollar of income over $250,000 in a single household and every dollar over $500,00 in a larger household …
And will help us phase out our reliance on regressive taxes to fund affordable housing, mass transit, and homelessness services in Seattle.
Relying on regressive taxes to fund our progressive agenda is like relying on Vladimir Putin to address U.S. cybersecurity.
It undermines the larger quest for equity that Seattle has invested in.
I must give special thanks to John Burbank of the Economic Opportunity Institute and Katie Wilson of the Transit Riders Union for challenging us to shore up our investments in social justice by asking us to fund them justly.
And while the NYT points out how hypocritical it is of Republicans to undermine “Local Control,” a fundamental GOP credo…
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).
As House Speaker Paul Ryan has put it: “Government closest to the people governs best.” …
…it’s also important to note that, if that’s the standard, then Democrats are also being hypocrites…
After all, just as the GOP is supposed to favor smaller government and local control, Democrats are supposed to be for universal standards (like Civil Rights, despite your zip code) …and so should support statewide rules…no?
I don’t think either side is being hypocritical, though. After all, the common denominator in the ideological standoff between the two parties was never actually a question of federalism. The small government versus big government debate was always really a question of civil rights and social justice—with the GOP attempting to curtail broader civil rights while Democrats looked to government to intervene against injustice across the board.
The list of city ordinances and initiatives that Republican state legislatures are trying to thwart, repeal, and preempt are all city efforts to expand equity and social justice.
I wrote an essay about this in the context of Seattle’s resistance to the Trump agenda shortly after the election last November: “Cities’ Rights. There’s Nothing Hypocritical About Fighting for Civil Rights,” PubliCola, 11/30/2016.