Imagine Congress deciding the proper speed limit on the quiet street in front of your house.
Contemplate your mayor negotiating a nuclear arms treaty with another country.
Consider if the governor could dictate the maximum size of storefront signs everywhere in the state.
It goes without saying that any of these actions would stretch the limits of reasonable authority. Under the American system of government, federal, state, and local authorities each have specific responsibilities. As the examples above illustrate, when authorities stray from their proper lanes, the results are legally improper and unmanageable in the real world.
The Minneapolis and St. Paul city governments unfortunately have strayed into policy areas that have always been left to federal and state authorities. These cities have mandated that private-sector employers provide precise sets of employee benefits. The ordinances in Minneapolis and St. Paul are just the beginning: Duluth is poised to pass a benefits mandate this fall, and Minneapolis has established its own minimum wage scheduled to take effect in 2018.
The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce wants a thriving economy in which employers compete to attract and retain employees by offering competitive wages and benefits. But we oppose a patchwork of mandates enacted by local governments. We are challenging wage and benefit mandates on private-sector employers on two fronts.
At the Legislature, we advocated for passage of the Uniform State Labor Standards Act, which would have explicitly pre-empted local governments from enacting their own their wage and benefit mandates. The Minnesota House and Senate both passed the bill, but Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed it. In the courts, we have challenged the legality of the Minneapolis ordinance.
On Sept. 18, the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the Hennepin County District Court that Minneapolis could enact a mandate — but that it could not impose it on businesses located outside of Minneapolis. We respectfully believe that the court misapplied the law regarding the city’s authority to enact the ordinance in the first place, and we will appeal that portion of the ruling to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
As we advocate for governments to stay in their proper lanes, some ask whether our efforts are an affront to “local control.” Policymakers must remember that while “local control” is an important principle, it is not an end to itself. Rather, the principle to follow is “proper level of control.”
Our system of government certainly values local control in policy areas such as school board decisions, zoning and assessment of property taxes. In many other policy areas, however, Minnesota has realized the benefits of uniformity, as reflected in our statewide criminal code; consumer protection laws; banking, insurance and securities regulations; and occupational licensing.
Local governments are right to control certain activities within their own borders. But we believe that enacting employee wage and benefit mandates on private employers is outside city authority and conflicts with state law. For decades, the Minnesota Legislature has passed legislation governing Minnesota’s workplaces, including laws governing leave.
The ordinances passed by Minneapolis and St. Paul — and being contemplated by others — threaten to open the floodgates to a whole new area of legislating for local governments. This overreach ought to be stopped, and municipal authorities should stay in their lane.
The Minnesota Chamber works every day to make Minnesota ready for the future — ready for change and ready to grow. That’s best accomplished by each level of government staying within its respective lane — so Congress won’t dictate your street’s speed limit, your mayor won’t negotiate a treaty with a foreign nation and your city council won’t mandate that employers provide a certain number of sick days.
Doug Loon is president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce (www.mnchamber.com).