Our Opinion: Crush out retaliatory legislation

News Tribune editorial

Here’s an idea that deserves to go up in smoke in a hurry.

A proposed state law would require city and county governments to transfer to local school districts the property and sales tax revenues collected from businesses affected by tobacco restrictions.

The measure is sponsored by state Rep. Kathie Conway, R-St. Charles County.

Her stated purpose is to protect the rights of the owners of bars, restaurants and other businesses to decide for themselves whether to allow smoking.

“If these municipalities and counties are going to hurt the income of small businesses, maybe their bottom line would be affected as well,” she said.

We can think of three immediate reasons to oppose this legislation.

First, what authority would determine which businesses were affected — “hurt,” in Conway’s words — by smoking restrictions? Would the transfer be based on the degree of “hurt” or would it be all or nothing? How would the authority — person or group — be financed? Could businesses petition the authority, or a circuit court, to be deemed affected or unaffected by a smoking ban? Would an appeals process be available?

Second, what person or entity would handle the transfer of sales tax money from cities and counties to school districts? Who or what would be accountable? How would a city or county that includes multiple school districts divide the transferable sales and property taxes?

Last, and most important, the philosophy of local control is the reason municipal governments, county commissions and local public school boards were created.

State legislators routinely express dismay and frustration about being bullied by the federal government to jump through mandated hoops.

Under this proposal, the state becomes the bully, imposing punishments for what the state construes as local governments bullying businesses by enacting smoking restrictions.

We support the concept of local control. City and county decisions, especially those enacted by voters, deserve to be respected.

Representation involves more than imposing the state’s will on local governments.

And, when the state does impose its will through legislation, it must not take the form of retaliation.

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