Wyoming Liberty Group

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Let the People Vote (With Their Feet)

In the real world, people vote with their feet. Charles Tiebout, an academic, wrote about this basic principle over a half-century ago in 1956 and it still holds true today. Unfortunately, Wyoming law still tries to stop people who wish to opt out of oppressive city regulation by moving just beyond the city limits through archaic statutes which extend the power of the city beyond the actual city limits.

The Wyoming legislature has granted cities and towns something called Extraterritorial Jurisdiction. Extraterritorial Jurisdiction is the authority cities and towns have to pass laws that apply to people and property located outside of the city limits or town limits.

For example, the City of Laramie’s Parks and Recreation Master Plan is an example of Wyoming’s failure to protect rural property owners from over-aggressive city planners. Some residents of unincorporated Albany County objected to the plan because the City of Laramie designated future land uses for private property even though the land is not located within the City of Laramie.

When our nation’s founders declared independence from the governing authorities in Britain, they boldly proclaimed, “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” The Wyoming constitution echoes this basic principle stating, “All power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority.”

As one U.S. Supreme Court Justice explained in his 1978 dissent to the decision in Holt Civic Club v. City of Tuscaloosa, (439 U.S. 60, 82, 99 S. Ct. 383, 396), this should mean that there is a reciprocal relationship between the process of government and those who subject themselves to that process by choosing to live within the area of its authority.

Basically, no government should be able to exert its authority and power over people in the place that they live if those people do not also have the power and authority to vote for or against that government’s elected officials. The city council’s authority should stop at the city limits.

However some Wyoming residents, like those who live outside the Laramie city limits, do not have the right to vote for those people who govern over them. Three separate statutes give city governments the authority to regulate people and property outside of the city limits—even though the people who live there cannot vote in city elections. According to Tiebout’s theory, these statutes also mean Wyoming taxpayers pay more for unnecessary city services than they otherwise would.

First, W.S. § 15-3-202 grants cities in Wyoming with populations over 4,000 the power to enact ordinances “in all matters except taxation” that “may tend to improve the finances of the city, the police, health, comfort and general prosperity of the city” that apply “within one-half (1/2) mile of the corporate limits of the city.” This means a city council can pass laws harmful to people and property outside of the city limits if doing so might improve the finances, or general prosperity of the city. In addition, the people or property owners the city decides to harm are powerless because they have no right to vote against the government officials who decide to do them harm. Their only resort is to ask the County Commissioners, who are also answerable to city residents, to nullify the city’s ordinance causing the harm.

Second, W.S. § 34-12-103 requires any landowner who owns land within one mile of the boundaries of any city or town in Wyoming to get approval from that city or town to sell off the property. This may seem like a minor inconvenience to some. However, cities like Laramie and Cheyenne impose extensive, detailed regulations on both the minimum and maximum size for parcels, buildings, setbacks, and even building materials. This statute allows the city to impose extreme micromanagement on landowners who do not vote, live, or work inside the city limits. This particular statute was the subject of taxpayer-funded litigation between the City of Cheyenne and Laramie County in 2012 when the City of Cheyenne tried to refuse to vacate a portion of a subdivision plat not even within the city limits.

Finally, W.S. § 15-1-411 empowers city politicians to prevent nonresidents from forming their own city or town to take advantage of some of the efficiencies economist Charles Tiebout describes in his seminal paper A Pure Theory of Local Public Expenditures. This law is significant for the more that 7,500 people who live in the unincorporated area south of Cheyenne. This area is larger than the cities of Lander and Torrington and is also one of the five most densely-populated places in Wyoming. Many of the residents in this area cannot follow the example of the founding generation and form their own local government themselves. Instead the Cheyenne City Council can prevent any effort at self-governance simply because the Wyoming State Legislature does not want to allow the kind of independent communities formed around Casper to happen elsewhere in Wyoming.

Each of these are examples of laws in Wyoming wrongfully empowering city or town governments to impose their will on Wyoming residents who do not have a corresponding right to vote for or against those same elected officials. This breaks faith with the basic principle that governments derived their power from the consent of the governed because people who cannot vote in municipal elections are still subject to municipal regulatory authority where they live.

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Saturday, 23 September 2017
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