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A New Charter for American Cities: 10 Rights to Restrain Government and Protect Freedom

March 20, 2015

Since 1972, America has gained an average of one new local government every day. The mushrooming of local governments is outdone only by the growth in state and local spending, which has outstripped that of the federal government since 1970. Arizona is no exception.

Special districts in Arizona have burgeoned from just over 30 in 1952 to more than 300 in 2007 so numerous that they now approach the sum of all counties, cities, and towns in Arizona. The bulk of this growth occurred after 1980, suggesting that municipalities deliberately spun off special districts to engage in spending projects that would otherwise be unconstitutional under reforms enacted after the stagflation of the 1970s, which attempted to restrict local government spending to a formula based on inflation and population growth. In fact, since 1998, Arizona’s local public payroll has ballooned 90 percent, exceeding the growth of the federal payroll. And, at the same time, local politicians have borrowed tens of millions of dollars for swimming pools, dog parks, skateboard parks, mountain bike trails, and waterslides.

Despite their proliferating numbers and profligate spending, Arizona’s local governments are functioning as if securing liberty were irrelevant to their mission. Since 1980, Arizona’s crime rates for the most violent criminal offenses have ranged between five and 10 percent higher than national rates. And local government bureaucracies are more intrusive, opaque and less accountable than ever, with public records request responsiveness in Arizona receiving a grade of F from the Better Government Association and National Freedom of Information Coalition in 2007. If anything, the growth of local government has been a detriment to liberty. 

Business as usual is no longer possible. Local property and sales tax revenues are plummeting. Yuma, for example, faces a $3 million budget shortfall. Between August and November 2008, Tempe’s sales tax revenues reportedly slumped 9.2 percent. And a host of cities in Arizona and across the country now face large budget deficits.

In short, Arizonans face significant challenges stemming from overspending combined with the national financial crisis. One of the biggest challenges involves deciding what to do about local governments that have grown unsustainably numerous, large, intrusive, and irresponsible.

Legitimate governments are meant to secure liberty. Local governments are no exception. That’s why this report recommends adopting and enforcing the first principles of legitimate government at the local level. It provides the theoretical basis for advancing a judicially enforceable set of individual rights, as opposed to simply relying on local political processes to achieve reform. And it furnishes a road map for legislatively implementing the recommended reforms. In so doing, the proposed Local Liberty Charter aims to restrain out-of-control local government growth.

Read A New Charter for American Cities here



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