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Arizona Law Targets City Governments By Cutting Off Funds


As we mentioned, one place this is very evident is Arizona, and Jude Joffe-Block of member station KJZZ has this report on the conflict taking a new turn.

JUDE JOFFE-BLOCK, BYLINE: Some of Arizona's cities are pretty liberal, and they've been considering policies like paid sick leave and requiring buildings to measure energy use. But the conservative state legislature has passed state laws to block those efforts.

When one city passed a ban on plastic bags at grocery stores, the legislature banned cities from banning plastic bags. Republican State Senator Steve Smith says it's his job in the legislature to intervene if there are local policies that could be bad for all of Arizona.

STEVE SMITH: We want as little government involved in our lives as possible on all levels, but sometimes you have to - you write a law to undo a bad one.

JOFFE-BLOCK: Smith is annoyed because he thinks some cities are flouting state law anyway. For example, Tucson has some local gun safety ordinances. Smith believes they violate an Arizona law that says gun regulation can only be set at the state level.

SMITH: And you effectively had a thumbing of the nose saying from this city, well, that's just the way it's going to be.

JOFFE-BLOCK: So Smith and his Republican colleagues passed a new preemption law this year they say will force cities to follow Arizona law. It says any city with a policy that violates state law will lose its share of revenue from the state, which is critical to city budgets.

SMITH: And if I get a ticket because I willingly disobeyed to follow one of the laws, then I deserve it. If a city or town willfully and knowingly disobeys state law, then they're going to pay the consequences of it.

JOFFE-BLOCK: This new law escalates the existing fight over state preemption here, and the threat to city funding has mayors around Arizona really angry.

GREG STANTON: It's illegal and - but more importantly, it's just unacceptable.

JOFFE-BLOCK: Greg Stanton is the mayor of Phoenix and a Democrat. He says the new preemption law is really about partisan politics - conservative legislators trying to block liberal local policies they oppose by threatening crucial funds.

STANTON: And if they don't like the public policies that I'm supporting in the city of Phoenix, blast me in the media. Take a shot at me. That's great. That - let's have a good public debate about those issues, but don't threaten our police officers and firefighters in losing resources as a result of that.

JOFFE-BLOCK: One of Tucson's gun ordinances is the first city policy to be scrutinized under the new state preemption law. The ordinance says Tucson police should destroy certain abandoned and seized guns rather than resell them. It's now before the Arizona Supreme Court to decide if that ordinance conflicts with Arizona's state law - at stake, all of Tucson's shared revenue from the state.

MIKE RANKIN: And for the city of Tucson, that's a big number. It's over a hundred million dollars per year that we get in state-shared revenues.

JOFFE-BLOCK: Mike Rankin is the Tucson city attorney. He says Tucson's gun ordinance is lawful because the state constitution gives charter cities the authority to decide local matters like city property. The city has vowed to defend its ordinance in court, but the new law was written to discourage that. It requires the city to post a bond of over $50 million just to fight the case, which troubles Rankin.

RANKIN: Because we believe that's an unconstitutional bar from our ability even to go into court and defend our own rights.

JOFFE-BLOCK: Rankin filed a separate lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the new state preemption law. But even as Tucson fights this new law in the hopes it will be struck down by the courts, Councilman Steve Kozachik says he expects other Republican-controlled states to try to pass similar laws.

STEVE KOZACHIK: And Arizona is ground zero for it. We're the first. But don't be fooled. This is happening in states all over the country, and we just happen to be the first one in line.

JOFFE-BLOCK: After all, Arizona is often a trendsetter for state policy. For NPR News, I'm Jude Joffe-Block in Phoenix.

SHAPIRO: And back to our state politics editor Brett Neely here in the studio. From listening to her story, it sounds like many more of these fights to come in 2017.

BRETT NEELY, BYLINE: Yeah, absolutely. The political dynamics just make these kinds of fights inevitable, and here's why. I mean about half of the states now are fully-controlled by Republicans - governor and the legislature on down. And meanwhile, Democrats are just locked out of power at the state level. There's just a handful of states where Democrats have that kind of control. But at the city level, they're very, very strong.

For example, 22 out of the country's 25 biggest cities are run by Democrats and often increasingly very liberal Democrats and interested in policies like paid leave and increasing the minimum wage. So this is a story that NPR and our member stations - we're going to be exploring over the next year as we focus more of our coverage on state politics.

SHAPIRO: That's Brett Neely who edits state politics and government for us. Thanks, Brett.

NEELY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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