What is Home Rule?

Before we can think about revoking it, we have to understand it. Here is the best description I’ve come across so far:

In the United States, the national and state governments share power in a system of federalism, with both levels of government holding certain checks over the other. However, no similar balance exists when it comes to the relationship between a state and a local government; a local government performs its functions solely at the pleasure of the state government. Because the different communities of a state have widely different needs, the state government may not always be able to meet those needs. Therefore, for the sake of local autonomy, the state may grant communities the ability to exercise certain forms of self-governance. This delegation of power from the state to a unit of local government is known as home rule. Home rule designation allows units of local government, such as city councils, to exercise certain powers within their jurisdiction concurrently with the state legislature. Simply put, home rule allows local government to solve local problems. For example, in addition to the regular state sales tax, a city council might impose an additional sales tax for products sold within the city in order to raise revenue for city use.

There are three checks on home rule powers (emphasis mine):

First, the legislature has the authority to remove a function from the scope of home rule. Second, the voters of a community can revoke home rule power if the local government does something they do not like. Third, in its role as interpreter of the constitution, the court system has a say behind the precise meaning of the home rule power. Because the people have the authority to abolish home rule completely, they hold the ultimate check.

What we don’t like–and this is why I support a referendum question about revoking home rule–is that DeKalb is fixing to raise our taxes in as many as six different ways when we have made clear we would prefer cuts in the budget to eliminate shortfalls in this time of economic downturn. For whatever reason, Dekalb City Council has decided not to take its direction from the taxpayers.

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