Urban-rural divide increases policy tension between cities and state government; Stateline says, ‘expect more of it’

The economic, cultural and policy divisions between prosperous metro areas and rural communities continues to shape U.S. politics. We’ve written of the issue several times in recent months, including this post-election review. Stateline reports the divisions are likely to increase. As they do, conflicts between cities and state Legislatures will become more common.

The report casts the divisions in partisan terms,

With the federal government and most states controlled by conservative Republicans this year, Democrats are looking to Democratic cities and counties to stand up for progressive policy.

But the divisions may also transcend party lines.

The tension between cities and states isn’t all political; it’s also a philosophical debate over how much leeway cities should have to govern themselves. “This is really about cities asserting the rights of cities … to decide for themselves, consistent with their own community’s values, what solutions are in the best interest of their community,” Gillum said of his coalition.

Stateline continues,

State lawmakers have blocked city action on a range of economic, environmental and human rights issues, including liberal priorities such as minimum wage increases, in recent years. And the stage looks set for more confrontation between cities and states this year…

While legislators say they’re trying to ensure consistency in state policy, so-called state preemption laws often expose political differences between state leaders — many of whom hail from rural districts — and city leaders.

“We’ve seen a continual uptick in preemptive measures at the state level over the last few years,” said Brooks Rainwater, director of the Center for City Solutions at the National League of Cities (NLC). He expects more of the same this year. 

Noting the proliferation of local labor laws, we wrote of preemption in this post. And, we noted the challenge in our foundation report

In addition to the absolute costs of these [various local labor policies], and the challenge they create in competing with other employers not subject to the same mandates, local governments’ wage and benefit regulations create compliance problems for employers operating in multiple jurisdictions. They also create difficulties as employers look to align their human resource policies among cities with different mandates. For example, the SeaTac and Seattle sick leave policies have differing provisions.

As Stateline reports, preemption has become a widespread legislative strategy.

About 32 states now prohibit localities from regulating ride-hailing companies such as Uber, 23 ban raising the local minimum wage, 15 ban cities from requiring companies to offer sick days, and three ban anti-discrimination ordinances that protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents, according to the tally kept by the Partnership for Working Families, a network of left-leaning advocacy groups.

Many states also have stopped cities and counties from creating municipal broadband networks, imposing bans on fracking, and charging customers a fee for using plastic carryout bags. In Arizona and Florida, laws penalize cities that defy preemption laws.

It’s not all bleak.

There’s still plenty of room for cities and states to cooperate this year, regardless of political differences, said Bruce Katz, who studies cities at the Brookings Institution, a centrist Washington, D.C., think tank. 

“We’re probably spending a little bit too much time talking about the conflict side, and not talking enough about cooperation,” he said.

We agree. As we wrote last August,

Broadly shared prosperity reduces the volatility of an imbalanced economy, breaks down geographic and social divisions, and expands opportunities for all residents of the state. Our roadmap is intended to further that goal.

In the coming months, we expect to advocate for policies that advance shared prosperity.