Balancing State & Local Power

by Hon. Jon Russell, Jonathan Williams, Lee Schalk & Thomas Savidge

Introduction

Our Founding Fathers outlined their vision of how the government should be structured in the Federalist Papers and later enshrined it in the U.S. Constitution, hoping their design allowed each level of government to function properly and provide stability to the country. Since the Founders made no mention of local government in the Constitution, this necessarily implies that local governments are creations of state governments under their authority.

Within this context exist two types of governing authorities, Home Rule and the Dillon Rule. Home Rule gives local governments the authority to make broad legislative decisions not addressed by the state; Dillon Rule allows for local governments to only legislate what the state government has decreed. State governments created both authorities to help administer the functions of government, as it would be virtually impossible for state governments to administer public safety, infrastructure, and zoning ordinances without these political subdivisions. The Dillon Rule and Home Rule keep local governments focused on what they handle best: local matters. Whether the Dillon Rule or Home Rule governs a local government, states ultimately decide their powers.

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