Navigating the Waters between Local Autonomy and State Preemption

Local government continues to be the source of new and innovative solutions to specific problems confronting the lives of residents. However, local officials across the country have expressed strong concerns about the recent growth in state restrictions and preemptions of municipal and county authority. State restrictions are increasing in the wake of other actions since the Great Recession that have frustrated local leaders efforts to serve and improve their communities. These include cutbacks in discretionary financial aid, off-loading functional responsibilities without commensurate revenues, and unfunded mandates. Due to political stalemate in Washington, D.C., combined with inaction in many state legislatures, a resurgence of fend-for-yourself federalism may be on the horizon. However, many local governments are forging ahead with innovations and experiments in a wide range of policy areas. Some legislators and governors want to rein in local governments, not empower them. As a result, state-local relations have become more contentious and adversarial. This paper examines these trends and provides a framework for helping local government officials understand how best to navigate these governance issues while states continue to wrestle with the questions of how best to meet the needs of their citizens.

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