Law-Making Hypocrisy: Conservative Legislators Hate Mandates, Except When They Don't

All good conservatives believe that the government closest to the people governs best. Having local voters with veto power over local government prevents unwarranted regulation and taxation. Also less chance of those “unfunded mandates” or, just mandates, from another level of government.

All good conservatives believe that except when they don’t.

Our state legislators like to curse the federal government and resist its mandates. Last week we had a debate in the state Senate over nullification of federal laws, a matter settled in the 19th century. Perhaps legislators should consider that special interests in Washington convince members of Congress on a course of action. The members of Congress think they know best and they send out laws and regulations with some regularity to govern the rest of us.

Do the members of our state Legislature not see the irony in their regularly listening to special interests and being convinced to issue mandates to local government? No, I don’t suppose they do. After all, they know best.

The Tennessee Legislature has always been full of hypocrites who talk a good game on local government governing best. But Republicans could always blame mandates to local government on the Democrats. Not any more. Not with a Super Majority.

Special interests find it easier to win one time in Nashville, then they don’t have to go around fighting proposals from city to city. (The tobacco lobby once got the Legislature to forbid local government from banning smoking.) See any similarity to special interests passing mandates in Washington so they don’t have to go around and fight the battle in 50 states?

The business lobby is prevailing on the state Legislature to forbid a city raising the minimum wage above $7.25 an hour ($2.13 for people working for tips).

There is also a bill that forbids a city requiring contractors or people doing business in the city to pay a prevailing wage rate or to require that contractors provide health benefits. (Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero is in Nashville this week lobbying against that one.)

This comes after legislation last session forbidding cities to require their contractors not discriminate against gay people.

Business lobbyists tell legislators they have to have consistency throughout the state and it would be a real problem if regulations and requirements were different in different jurisdictions. We have to have the same laws in Maynardville and Memphis and Mountain City. That’s the argument they use in Washington to “standardize” laws throughout the states.

Legislators often glibly parrot the talking points and seem to have little regard for the impact of their decisions on the average citizen. If business wants consistency, how about requiring that every town and city in the state require a prevailing wage rate over the minimum?

No? So it isn’t about consistency. It’s about using the law to keep local government from asking for better wages from their contractors.

If it makes you mad for your City Council to ask that contractors pay a decent wage, provide health insurance, or not discriminate against employees then you have the option to run for City Council or support someone else. But it’s a local matter and no one in Nashville ought to be telling local governments what they can and can’t do.

Some local school districts are resisting efforts to set up charter schools. The state is already pulling the purse strings. Will a complete state takeover of charter schools be next? Even if you think charter schools are a good idea, shouldn’t you let the local school board decide? If you don’t like the decision, run for the school board or support someone else.

Conservatives are big on federalism. States have different ways of doing things; the states are laboratories for new ideas and ways of doing things.

When state legislators sit down to write a new mandate for local government, they ought to ask themselves a question: How is what I’m doing different from what the Congress does to me?

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Comments » 1

BayardDonahoo writes:

This tension between the various levels of government is impossible to avoid in any nation larger than the Vatican. Unless we break America up into city-states, this "hypocrisy" problem is a structural fact. We can't have a representative republic without it, so let's just get over it.

What we could hope for is that our politicians drop their whining about hypocrisy and just state that they think their way is best and that they are going to try to force their views into law at their particular legislative level.

What's fun is to watch the politicians' definitions of hypocrisy change as they work their way up the governmental ladder from local to state to federal office.

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