The state of Alabama recently passed a bill which in my mind is the worst kind of state legislation, the kind that tells city/local governments what they can or can’t do. In this case, the law they passed says that cities/municipalities in Alabama can not set its own minimum wage. This was in direct response to the city of Birmingham passing an increase of its minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.
This is just frustrating to me as a Birmingham resident. First, the city of Birmingham continues to struggle economically, with over 30% of its population living below the poverty line. The city leadership has been pretty useless when it comes to actually doing something about this. And then when they finally actually try to do something, ANYTHING, to affect change, the state steps in and says no? Geez louise, the city is “do-nothing” enough even without the state squashing one of the few actions the city actually managed to pass.
Seconds, as a voter who supports this increase, what am I supposed to do? Obviously the elected leaders of the city supported this. Additionally, the state representatives from the city ALSO supported this. The state representatives that killed this all represent OTHER communities. I can’t cast a vote against them (and convince my fellow members of the community to do the same). I suppose I could call these others, but they really have no reason to listen to me. After all, they don’t represent me in the first place!
Of course, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The state’s very constitution was created to consolidate power with state legislators at the capital of Montgomery (and to help ensure that “power” remained with well-to-do whites). Almost any local legislation has to go through Montgomery first, often requiring a state constitution amendment to so (for example, there is a state constitutional amendment up for vote Tuesday that would allow Shelby County to allow alcohol sales on Sundays). This has led to the creation of a ridiculous constitution document that now has nearly 900 amendments. It has also led to ridiculous situations where local provisions have been approved by the impacted voters, but overruled by other statewide voters.
Still, Alabama is not the only state that does this sort of thing. For instance, the state of Tennessee passed a law forbidding cities/local governments from being able to ban guns from its own public parks. The Missouri state government says that cities can’t ban plastic bags or set minimum benefit requirements. In Nebraska, the attorney general said that its cities can’t pass ordinances designed to protect the LGBT community.
One of the ideas that proponents of small federal government often push is the idea that local governments can be “laboratories of democracy”, where ideas can be tested without having a larger impact on the larger population. And what better laboratory could there be than at the city level? If it works, great, maybe others will adopt the same ideas. If not, then we the local citizens can push for change and hold our representatives responsible and meanwhile no one else would have really been affected by the failed policy at all. Yet it seems when the ideas go against the political beliefs of those in charge at higher levels of government, all of a sudden the idea of “big brother” stepping isn’t a violation of small government principles after all.
Let Birmingham (let us!) give its minimum wage increase a shot.