Every day there’s a story where a Republican somewhere bemoans the encroachment of the federal government to the detriment of the rights of the states and the individual. And while the encroachment of government on the rights of the governed is indeed a legitimate concern, one must understand that the far, far greater threat to our liberty is at the state and local level. Below are three reasons why.
States have plenary legislative power. The states have the power to enact any law as long as it does not violate the Constitution or federal law, contrary to the enumerated powers of Congress. That means they have control over
- Property and zoning laws
- Sales tax, property taxes and state income Taxes
- Gay rights
- Employment laws
- Traffic laws
- Alcohol access
All those are areas are mostly governed at the state or local level - and those local governments are not shy about exercising that muscle. In 2011, for example, the Virginia General Assembly passed 1,600 new laws. By contrast, Congress passed 123 in 2010
Local regulation is more likely influenced by personal passion or prejudice. To pass a federal law, you need the agreement of at least 51 senators, 218 representatives and 1 president. To hike your property taxes or zero zone your property, it takes only 5 supervisors. Furthermore, it is a heck of a lot more likely that you will know your neighbors with your supervisor than your senator, and that personal input can and does make a difference in the laws enacted.
Lawmaking at the state and local level is not as sophisticated. Sorry, but it’s true. The legislative process at the local level lacks the reasoned, considered debate of the federal.. The impact of a local ordinance or a particular state statue, on a national level, is just not that great. As such, local legislation, in particular, just doesn’t draw the same attention or input from special interest or lobbyists, and, as a result, they are more likely to enact a bad law. Yes, lobbyists do help make better laws.
Contrary to general perception, it’s the federal government that often is the check on excessive government interference. Limiting the role of states in things like transportation and telecommunication no doubt has allowed those industries to run far more smoothly than were there 50 separate regimes to contend with. Those are just two examples; there are scores more where federal regulation has, oddly enough, broadened our liberties.
So, for those looking to limit the government role in our lives don’t overlook what’s going on in your own backyard. And, moreover, be thankful for the federal government!