Local control is a bedrock principle of conservative thought. But it’s become apparent that when local decision-making is inconvenient for them, Republican state officials do not hesitate to squash it.
It’s ironic at best, hypocritical at worst.
In the absence of long overdue federal action to raise the minimum wage, local officials have been taking matters into their own hands. But throughout the nation, Republican-led state legislatures are moving more aggressively than ever to stop local elected officials from doing what they know is best for their constituents.
Let’s call these efforts what they are: a state-government takeover of hometown decisions that would provide financial security and peace of mind for people who serve food, mop floors, take care of the elderly and more.
I’ve traveled across the country and met many of these workers in the nearly three years that I’ve been Labor Secretary. They want the same things we all want: to go home at the end of a hard day’s work with their dignity intact and a decent paycheck that will keep them afloat.
Yet Republicans insist on keeping the wage floor so low that millions of full-time workers must depend on safety-net programs to make ends meet.
Take Florida, where state politicians have been ignoring the will of the people to help workers for more than a decade.
After cities across Florida raised wages for city contractors, the Legislature in 2003 passed a law that prevented local jurisdictions from passing their own minimum wage laws for private-sector workers.
The next year, an overwhelming majority of voters approved a constitutional amendment that reserved cities’ rights to raise private-sector minimum wages.
Politicians in Tallahassee responded by amending the 2003 law to make it even harder for cities to take care of their own.
Undeterred, local elected officials all over the state have attempted to help their residents.
Several counties have issued wage-theft ordinances, and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has expanded access to paid leave and raised the minimum wage for city employees.
In Miami Beach, Mayor Philip Levine has proposed to extend the living wage ordinance that already applies to city contractors to all private-sector employees. It’s a simple measure that would help low-wage workers share in the prosperity of the tourism industry that thrives because of their work.
It remains to be seen whether state lawmakers will continue to stymie cities’ efforts to make life easier for working families by defending a law that on its face conflicts with the state Constitution.
Florida is not the only state that tries to bigfoot local efforts that would help working families.
In Alabama, in Idaho, in Arizona and in many other states, we’ve seen recent efforts to stand in the way of the efforts of local officials who want simply to do what’s best for their constituents.
Across the country, nearly 30 local jurisdictions and counting have enacted their own minimum-wage ordinances. They don’t need politicians in the state house telling them that they don’t know what’s best for their communities.
Raising the federal minimum wage, a step Congress has not taken in nearly a decade, would be an effective antidote to this state-level intransigence.
The time is long overdue to give low-wage workers in all 50 states a raise. That’s why the Obama administration has backed the Raise the Wage Act, introduced by Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Bobby Scott.
You shouldn’t have to win the geographic lottery to earn a fair wage.
But Republicans in Congress have refused to allow even a modest increase. It is regrettable that their obstructionism has trickled down into state legislatures, where it’s no longer enough to stall progress on the state level; they now actively prevent local officials from doing the jobs that people elected them to do.
If state legislators refuse to use their time in office to help working families, they could at least stop short of handcuffing local officials who want to try.
Thomas E. Perez is the U.S. secretary of Labor.