Is “big government” about its size: tax dollars, budgets and staffing—or more fundamentally about its presence in your life: interference, coercion and effect on liberty of the citizenry? Libertarians and intellectually honest conservatives would favor the latter over the former. They would also be concerned about another facet of growing government—that of Federal interference with state functions (considered mostly a Republican cause since the late 1960’s) and closer to home, state government threatening the home rule dictate in Georgia’s state constitution (apparently a Republican mission from God).
Even if one were to accept the level of “in your local business” state government as a trade-off between public good and liberty, as in the case of removing a school board or overriding charter school decisions, state office holders should bear the final responsibility for decisions and public consequences of legislation, not state boards in the former case and voters in the case of referendums. Even more dangerous, because of the slippery slope of unforeseen consequences, the state should not grant authority to civic groups (city-making), unconstitutionally invented regional authorities (TSPLOST) or a school accreditation “reviewer” (SACS), in each case the result is the same: a dance around county governments, the only legal subdivision of the state. So we now have a sweeping attack on home rule in unpopular counties, a trend that has even resulted in overriding the Supreme Court twice—however the public can’t pin final decisions on legislators.
Regardless of whether local control (a unique foundation of the Georgia Constitution) has led to irresponsibility, incompetence, harm to public good or waste, all terms that are not only subjective and debatable, they are rectifiable at the ballot box and recall petition. The key is the notion of a foundational constitutional premise—something envisioned as unique and underlying the Georgia state constitution—home rule and local control. Georgia is one of the few states with home rule instituted in its original constitution—most so-called “home rule states” were created by amendment. Not only that, but the original Georgia “county system” assigns greater power to counties than cities—cities are not considered “subdivisions” of the state. The point being, county governments and school systems enjoy home rule status as a fundamental tenet—not one that was established as an afterthought—nor can it be abridged arbitrarily.
These are indeed powers that have been granted to local governments that are simply inviolate, no matter whether an incidental legislature wants to tinker with them or not—at least until the state supreme court rules otherwise. The Supreme Court ruled on local school system TAD “opt out” in 2009 and struck down the original charter school commission. In both cases, the legislature made great pains to put constitutional amendments on voter’s backs for essentially things that chip away at the foundation of the constitution. We don’t know it yet, but the road ahead will be further “chipping” and resultant amendments to correct unforeseen consequences. What is going on Georgia today is the clearest example of a so-called “slippery slope” that can be imagined.
All people need to know about the businesses that this legislature is in can be found in the state of Michigan where the governor can now appoint a “city manager” to take over any (black) city government which is either proving too independent and reflective of its disaffected population—“incompetent” and “damaging to establishment economic interests” by white Republican standards.
By the way, this isn’t a partisan slam. First, I have no idea whether the 150 years of one party rule under Democrats yielded the same kind of arbitrary attack on the state constitution or misuse of the ballot box and war on voters. I wasn’t following state government that closely. I’m sure there are many voters that aren’t today either. Also, as a libertarian, I would be much more like to approve of conservative Republican liaise faire tendencies than liberal activism.
Remarkably, Republican legislative leadership has been overtly activist and liberal at that. Liberal Democrats that I know who wouldn’t even have a Republican in their homes before now are the most rabid supporters of these new extra-governmental powers in the cases of charter schools commission and city-making. By the way, the case of legislative unaccountability is clearest in the ascendancy of new cities, where unelected “civic” groups with claims on community representation have greater standing than county governments with state officials.
What will be interesting (and gratifying to me) will be when one civic group comes into conflict with another and forces the state government to make an arbitrary choice or mediate a negotiation between those parties. The same thing can be envisioned when the charter school population becomes unmanageable and they start cannibalizing each other the way they will soon eat neighborhood public schools. Should be a great spectator sport, watching the government say the interests of the public have been protected.