Powerful Cities?: Limits on Municipal Taxing Authority and What to Do About Them

May
2016
Erin Adele Scharff

Cities are once again on the rise and have become the site of major public debates, from income inequality and immigration policy to where and how Americans should live. While municipal leaders are often eager to fill the void in political leadership left by Congress and state elected officials, they are often hamstrung by state home rule laws, which define the powers states grant to municipalities. These laws limit, among other things, municipal taxing authority. Recently, local government scholars have wrestled with whether and how to grant municipalities more fiscal authority, but such scholarship has not provided a unified theory of municipal taxing authority.

This Article considers in detail whether and how to expand city taxing authority. It argues that state law should grant municipal governments “presumptive taxing authority.” This presumptive taxing authority would parallel municipal regulatory authority and be similarly subject to state preemption law. Such reform would open the door to more municipal revenue innovation, while ensuring that the state can vindicate its weighty policy interests.

This article appears in the May 2016 Issue: Volume 91, Number 2