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The debate over local control vs. bad policymaking

Updated: Jul 21, 2023

The tug of war between the federal government, the states and local governments has been part of our Republic since the founding - and this year is no different.

Today, the Idaho State House approved House Bill 22 - a measure that seeks to require cities to enforce state laws or risk losing state sales tax revenues. Two other bills have been introduced that would do similar things.

On the flip side, Rep. Steve Berch has introduced two new bills in the Idaho Legislature:

In short, these bills would allow a city like Boise to not only ban plastic bags, but adopt its own, higher minimum wage.

The city of Missoula is also asking the Montana state legislature to revoke a law that prevents it from banning plastic bags in the city.

First, let's talk about the issue of banning plastic bags. The research shows this is a bad idea if you're interested in protecting the environment.

The United Kingdom’s Environment Agency released a report in 2011 that highlighted the carbon impact of paper, reusable plastic, and cotton bags is higher than single-use plastic bags. In fact, scientists said you’d need to reuse a cotton bag more than 130 times to have an impact on the environment. Danish researchers had similar findings.

"The study found California communities with bag policies saw sales of 4-gallon trash bags increase by 55% to 75%, and sales of 8-gallon trash bags increase 87% to 110%. These results echo earlier studies that also showed increases in sales of smaller plastic trash bags."

The issue of raising the minimum wage via local governments is yet another troubling policy. Idaho's current minimum wage is the federal rate of $7.15 per hour.

A patchwork of local governments all adopting their own rates would make it harder for small business owners. Policymakers needn't go far to see the concept playing out in Washington State, where local governments have adopted various rates higher than the state.

But the broader concern in this policy would be its impact on workers. Research continues to show higher minimum wages lead to lower compensation. From the Harvard Business Review:

"For every $1 increase in the minimum wage, we found that the total number of workers scheduled to work each week increased by 27.7%, while the average number of hours each worker worked per week decrease by 20.8%. For an average store in California, these changes translated into four extra workers per week and five fewer hours per worker per week — which meant that the total wage compensation of an average minimum wage worker in a California store actually fell by 13.6%.
This decrease in the average number of hours worked not only reduced total wages, but also impacted eligibility for benefits."

Typically, local control is always preferred to top-down government mandates. The government that is closest to the people is usually the government that is most responsive.

But it's also important to recognize that, while the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution reserves powers to the states, state constitutions do not typically reserve power to the local governments.

Is it a state government responsibility to protect local governments from bad policies? Not necessarily. But as Thomas Lindsey wrote, "the battle between state authority and local control comes down to the choice between government regulation and individual liberty."

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