Local control — sometimes
Whenever local bureaucrats or special-interest groups want to neutralize conservative legislators, one of their most-potent weapons is two words: "local control."
If the Legislature wants to curb excessive taxes, demand transparency, end union give-aways, align election dates, or anything that trenches on the power of local government, "local control" is the argument of choice to stymie reform — and it often succeeds.
The notion that the best government is the government closest to home is embedded in the American tradition. It conjures nostalgic images of town-hall meetings and other forms of civic engagement.
But the reality is that many local governments have grown large and distant from their citizens. Few voters are engaged in local elections — in part because they often occur on random dates. And newer types of local governments, such as special districts and regional authorities, are experiencing explosive growth yet are almost completely immune to democratic constraints.
What's worse, local governments often are manipulated by special interests, especially unions. Our Constitution's framers predicted this. "The smaller the society, the smaller probably will be the distinct parties and interests composing it," warned James Madison in The Federalist No. 10, making it easier for special interests to "concert and execute their plans of oppression."
Our national government derives its powers from the states. So too do local governments, which possess only those powers expressly conferred by the state. Local and state government powers are intended to balance and constrain each other, so as to protect freedom.
Local governments affect our daily lives more than any other — from police and fire to schools, property and business regulations, and the most basic public services. Protections at the state level against local overreach are both essential and appropriate.