House Leaders Hear NLC on Issues of Preemption and Local Control

On Thursday, National League of Cities (NLC) Board Member Patrick Wojahn, mayor of College Park, Maryland, testified before the new Bipartisan Task Force on Intergovernmental Relations created by House Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Speaker Ryan opened the hearing, stating “There’s no question that we can work better, as partners, with state, local and tribal leaders.”

Out of the dozen members of Congress appointed to the task force, nearly all were in attendance. The hearing, chaired by Congressman Rob Bishop (R-UT), raised questions large and small. Among them:

  • “What powers ought to be delegated to each level of government?”
  • “Should all federal funding simply be block-granted to the states?”
  • “Should Dillon’s Rule be eliminated in every state, in favor of home rule?”

That final question was asked by Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-VA) to Mayor Wojahn following the mayor’s testimony, which included an explanation of Dillon’s Rule versus home rule states. Cities in home rule states are afforded broader authority than those in Dillon’s Rule states, in which state legislatures can aggressively control various elements of local governments, from their structures and methods of financing to their procedures and abilities to make and implement certain policies.

Mayor Wojahn’s testimony contrasted the growing fiscal power of cities and their contribution to the national economy with the waning authority afforded cities as a result of federal and state level preemptions. Mayor Wojahn cited NLC’s recent report on state preemption laws, City Rights in an Era of Preemption: A State-by-State Analysis, which was submitted with his testimony.

Mayor Wojahn stated to the committee:

“In the interest of our common constituents, the intergovernmental partnership should not serve as a battleground for divisive issues. Cities value strong federal and state partnerships. City leaders are using every tool at their disposal to create revenue locally and to stretch local tax dollars. From traditional tools like tax-exempt municipal bonds and innovative tax-increment financing districts to project-specific taxes approved by public referendum, city leaders are delivering on the expectations of their residents in economically-productive ways. But proposed cuts to programs that cities rely on, and aggressive preemption efforts at the state level — particularly those spurred by special interest groups — are hurting our ability to serve our local communities, expand our local economies, and ensure jobs for our residents.”

The bipartisan task force expects to hold monthly hearings to focus on specific questions that, ultimately, could lead to a rebalancing of the powers in the intergovernmental partnership.

mike_wallace_125x150About the author: Michael Wallace is the program director of federal advocacy at the National League of Cities. Follow him on Twitter @MikeWallaceII.