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Local perspectives on state preemption

It is no secret that state preemption of local laws is largely unpopular among local government officials. For example, the U.S. Conference of Mayors released a resolution this year condemning state preemption, arguing that politically motivated state governments are jeopardizing the well-being of local communities.

And, you may have read our research brief on the bipartisan opposition to gubernatorial preemption last year, which was based on a survey of local elected officials conducted in partnership with Alexandra Artiles from Florida State University.

CivicPulse teamed up with Alexandra Artiles again this year to conduct a survey of local government policymakers to further unpack their stance on state preemption across a range of more specific policy domains. These included traffic, taxes and expenditures, land use, environment, labor, guns, and housing.

The findings revealed that opposition to preemption varies significantly by issue. In particular, respondents were most likely to express opposition to preemption when it comes to land use and zoning as well taxes and spending. Conversely, officials were much less likely to oppose state preemption in matters related to labor or the environment (see below).

It is unsurprising that local officials would be most opposed to having their hands tied when it comes to how land and money within their jurisdiction is used. Several respondents expressed this view in their comments while taking the survey. For example, an official from a municipality in Wisconsin said that the previous governor in their state “limited local governments from raising taxes. My village board has always been fiscally responsible and this legislation has put us in a bind with continuing to improve our infrastructure.”

On the other hand, perhaps more local officials are amenable to the idea that addressing issues in labor and the environment necessitates a more comprehensive approach. For instance, state governments are responsible for most labor issues, such as unemployment, so it seems reasonable that local policymakers are less concerned with state preemption in this domain. And regarding the environment, one official from a municipality in Massachusetts remarked, “Local governments may not have the expertise to implement environmental requirements so state oversight can be helpful.”

Furthermore, our survey indicates that the reasoning for opposition, especially regarding housing, depends on the nature of the particular intervention by the state. When asked for examples of state preemption that had affected their communities, many local policymakers expressed varied opinions on state-imposed housing regulations, reflecting the current climate of controversy surrounding the topic.

Some respondents credited affordable housing regulations with helping their communities improve access to housing. However, others felt that their states’ preemptive housing legislation was designed for a few larger cities and ill-suited to their smaller local governments. As one elected official from a Colorado municipality explained, “We are bound by the state designated AMI for affordable housing and rules around deed restriction even though they don't always make sense in our economy.”

Still other respondents expressed frustration that their state had blocked their local governments’ ability to draft regulations to increase the affordable housing stock in their community. These varied perspectives highlight the intricate challenges associated with state preemption. Not only does the degree of opposition to it vary by issue, but so does the reasoning behind the opposition even within a given policy domain.

Survey Background

The research underlying this brief was built on data from a national random-sample of over 500 elected policymakers from local governments (i.e., township, municipality, and county governments) with a population of 1,000 or more. The survey was developed in collaboration with Alexandra Artiles with Florida State University and was implemented by CivicPulse.

Below is the question wording for the survey item that was used:

More generally, to what extent do you support or oppose state preemption of local government in each of the following policy areas?

  • Traffic

  • Taxes and expenditures

  • Land use and zoning

  • Environment

  • Labor

  • Guns

  • Housing

Answer choices:

  • Strongly support

  • Somewhat support

  • Neither support nor oppose

  • Somewhat oppose

  • Strongly oppose

If applicable, tell us about an example where state preemption affected your locality. Please limit your response to 2-3 sentences.

Media Contact

Nathan Lee, PhD

Managing Director of CivicPulse

(618) 319-3404


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