City governments need to get back to the basics.
Instead of focusing on the fundamentals, too many city councils — especially in large urban areas — are playing politics in areas where they don’t belong. As Sen. Donna Campbell recently put it: “City officials need to get their nose out of the private sector and focus on the public service function of local government, like delivering drivable roads and providing clean drinking water.”
It’s a stinging rebuke, but it’s also well deserved. In just the last few years, activist city councils have courted everything from illegal plastic bags bans to unreasonable ridesharing regulations to job-killing fracking bans. The newest intrusion is mandatory paid sick leave.
In cities such as Austin and San Antonio, local officials are trying to force privately-run businesses to give their employees up to 64 hours of paid time off per year. Some of them apparently believe they are more capable of running your business than you are.
Mandates like paid sick leave — which, full disclosure, the Texas Public Policy Foundation sued to block in Austin —are more than meddlesome. They invite much harm.
Mandatory paid sick leave costs employers financially. In a talk last year, County Line barbecue restaurant owner Skeeter Miller said the cost of complying with Austin’s ordinance would run upwards of $200,000 per year. That’s a big hit to County Line’s bottom line and, of course, they wouldn’t be the only ones to feel the pain. Restaurants and other businesses face the prospect of huge new costs stemming from record-keeping requirements and other aspects of the ordinance.
Employees stand to lose professionally. Whereas some workers might like to negotiate for higher wages, ask for other benefit enhancements, or look for another job in a competitive labor market, those possibilities dim with a one-size-fits-all mandate in place.
Consumers stand to lose commercially. Businesses paying higher prices will pass along at least some of those costs to consumers. There is no free lunch after all. Some small businesses will close under the new mandate’s weight, leaving consumers with fewer options overall.
Thankfully, employers, employees and consumers have been (mostly) spared from the worst thanks to a successful legal challenge. But the fight is far from over unless the Texas Legislature steps up in a big way.
State lawmakers have an opportunity to get a handle on adrift local policymaking through broad-based legislation like the Consistent Employment Regulations Act (CERA).
As filed, the CERA proposes to tamp down on municipal micromanagement by preventing local governments from establishing regulations that interfere with employment benefits, including mandatory paid sick leave.
CERA offers a good solution to a growing problem. Certain things, like employment benefits, should be handled at the state level, if at all, because of the need for uniformity, consistency and predictability.
A broad-based curtailment promises to refocus cities’ attention away from the cause du jour and onto their core responsibilities. Potholes and police are, after all, what most people expect from their city government.