WILL STATE’S RIGHTS TRANSLATE TO CITIES’ RIGHTS?

“Government that’s closest to the people is the best government.” That’s what Gov. Rick Perry said in an interview on NBC’s Today show two days after his victory in the November general election.

The election also swept into office a multitude of candidates supported by the Tea Party movement who share Gov. Perry’s view that Washington has infringed upon the powers of state governments and burdened the states with costly mandates.

In his interview with Meredith Vieira on Today, Perry said: “I think governors, whether you're Democrat or Republican, should be pushing back from Washington, D.C., and saying, ‘Listen, leave us alone. We know how to best to run our states. That government that's closest to the people is the best government.’”

Tea Party leaders have echoed those views. Mark Meckler, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, was quoted by the Associated Press the week before the election saying: “The best government is local government.” And, the North Texas Tea Party, in its statement of principles, makes this appeal: “If you believe that government close to the people governs best…we implore you to stand up and join our peaceful re-revolution.”

It’s a theme the governor sounded frequently during his re-election campaign. In an op-ed column authored by Perry in August 2009, he argued that the states, not Washington, should take the lead on health care reform.

“Instead of handing down ‘one size fits all’ mandates on how it’s going to be, Washington should be enabling states to set their own agendas, and solve their own problems,” Perry said.

Of course, this raises the question of whether the governor has adopted a new, consistent political philosophy that refrains from imposing state mandated restrictions on the ability of local governments to solve their own problems. Or is this just typical, meaningless campaign rhetoric designed to garner votes?

Perry certainly knows that “local control” is a popular message with voters. An opinion poll commissioned by TML in 2004 found that Texans overwhelmingly agreed that local tax and budget decisions are better handled by locally elected officials than by the state legislature.

But in the past, when Perry has advocated state-mandated restrictions on municipal and county budgets or state-mandated elections on local revenue increases, he has argued that such proposals do not violate local control “because empowering taxpayers is the ultimate form of local control.”

Would the governor feel the same way if Congress mandated statewide elections empowering taxpayers to vote on increases in state revenue? Or would he see that as a “one size fits all” mandate that prevents states from solving their own problems?

With the legislative session just weeks away, local officials will soon find out whether Gov. Perry truly believes that the best government is the one closest to the people.

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