Against preemption

Last week, Uber and Lyft, true to their word, announced that they would stop operating in Minneapolis after the City Council passed an ordinance hiking driver pay.

Now, WCCO reports:

Minnesota House Republicans plan to introduce a bill Monday to help keep Uber and Lyft operating in the Twin Cities.

Rep. Elliott Engen of White Bear Lake is introducing a bill that would essentially override Minneapolis’ ordinance and prevent any city or municipality from setting their own rules for rideshare driver pay. 

This has a familiar ring. Back in 2019, I wrote:

In recent years, the governments of both Minneapolis at Saint Paul have passed ordinances raising their legal minimum wages to $15 an hour. This is above the state’s minimum wage rates…

Republicans at the Capitol want to stop this. As MPR News reports,

“We think it’s a mistake to have a patchwork of bills across the state,” said Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka. “Lots of small businesses have more than one location. It’s hard to navigate different sets of rules all across the state.”

Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said his caucus plans to fight hard to prevent cities from adopting minimum wages higher than the state standard. And for those that have done so already, the measure wouldn’t allow them to enforce or administer the ordinances. The preemption also covers ordinances imposing time off or shift-scheduling regulations on employers.

In both cases, the catalyst for this proposal — preemption — was bad policy: Uber and Lyft have quit town and the Twin Cities’ minimum wage hikes cost jobs. But, as I argued four years ago, “preemption isn’t the answer:”

…If the people of Minneapolis and Saint Paul want to elect politicians who push such harmful public policies, in the full knowledge that these policies are harmful, they have that right. When…businesses leave and take their jobs and tax revenues with them, this will be a price the voters chose to pay, though it is unclear what they think they are getting in return.

Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously called the states “Laboratories of democracy”, describing how a “state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” The same goes for local governments. As Minneapolis and Saint Paul offer themselves up as examples of what not to do, the rest of the state can learn from them.

This remains the case.

Practically speaking, Minneapolis is suffering from poor leadership and that will not improve until the people of Minneapolis elect better leaders. They are less likely to do this if they are insulated from the consequences of voting for poor leaders by state government legislation. The people have a right to be wrong.

Speaking from principles, if you believe that as much power as possible ought to be devolved from the federal to state governments, it follows that as much power as possible ought to be devolved to local governments. As a general rule, political power ought always to rest closest to those whom it will affect.

This leads us to another argument I made back in 2019: Not only should we oppose preemption but we should go the other way and push for more local autonomy. As I wrote back then:

…When he vetoed a preemption measure in 2017, former Governor Mark Dayton explained that

“Local governments can be more adept at responding to local needs with ordinances that reflect local values and the unique needs of their communities. State government does not always know what works best for every community, and may lag behind when improvements are needed.”

He was right. According to the Economic Policy Institute’s Family Budget Calculator, a household with 2 adults and 2 children in Hennepin County would face $98,483 annually in various costs. In Cook County, the figure would be $80,451. Areas with such different economic characteristics will require, to some extent, different economic policies. 

But consider the implications. If it is wrong for the state government to pass a preemption law which would block local governments from raising their minimum wage above a certain level, why is it right for the state government to pass any sort of state minimum wage law which would block those same local governments from lowering their minimum wage below a certain level?

I concluded that “the argument against preemption is also an argument against a statewide minimum wage. Lets be consistent and ditch both.”

We should be looking to apply that reasoning across as wide a range of policies as possible. Of course, where, with something like defense, the federal government is the appropriate level, there will be areas of policy where state government is the appropriate level. But where it is not, say with housing or education, we should always start from the principle that the people most affected should make the decisions.