Senate Bill 1487, introduced by Senate President Andy Biggs and signed into law by Gov. Doug Ducey, represents a fiscal and political threat to every town and city in the state.
In his State of the State Address in January, Ducey threatened to withhold legally collected tax revenue from cities and towns that enact their own wage and employment laws “to put the brakes on ill-advised plans to create a patchwork of different wage and employment laws,” aimed at municipalities that were considering raising their local minimum wages.
At the time, Ducey didn’t have “brakes” in place, but Biggs was quick to draft a law in line with holding on to the state’s power over cities. However, SB 1487 went further than halting the potential increase in local minimum wage and opens up the floodgates to terrorize cities. As per usual with state legislators, they tried to swat a fly with a nuclear-tipped Howitzer.
Now law, SB 1487 is ripe for abuse against major cities and minor ones that likely do not have the funds to wage court cases they could likely win.
If a particular city council declines to endorse its legislator’s campaign, refuses to reward a legislator’s crony with a construction project or chooses not to name a new park after the legislator’s poodle, he or she could nitpick city code, file a violation under SB 1487 and prevent the state from giving the city tax revenue for months or even years.
The accusation doesn’t even have to be proven, just strongly alleged. The onus to prove the violation obeys state law is on the accused, not the accuser.
We shouldn’t be surprised. The Arizona State Legislature has a long history of enacting ill-advised, knee-jerk, often petty reactionary bills to combat minor threats to its power, or what legislators think should be its power. When Bisbee City Council voted to ban plastic grocery bags to protect the environment, the legislature enacted a statewide ban on any town or city making rules on grocery bags.
In 2012, legislators floated Proposition 120, the Arizona Declaration of State Sovereignty Amendment, which would have given the state authority over federally-managed lands like national forests and national monuments.
Not only was the bill unconstitutional — it likely would have been annihilated in a 9-0 vote by the U.S. Supreme Court because it was a cut-and-dried violation of the Supremacy Clause under Article VI — but Arizona could barely fund and manage its own state parks, which combined are less than 1/500th the size of federal lands in Arizona. Voters saw through the ruse and killed it 67.7 percent to 32.3 percent.
Unless there is a fundamental shift in the makeup of Arizona’s legislators, cities and towns will likely see funds dry up and municipal litigations exponentially balloon for years to come.