This commentary originally appeared in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on March 18, 2015.
Nanny-state rules and regulations are beginning to sprout up in towns and communities across the Lone Star State.
Local attempts to micromanage people’s daily lives run the gamut from prohibiting the use of single-use plastic bags to infringing on private property owners’ ability to trim trees on their land to controlling how and where people can use ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft.
Interestingly, most of these local restrictions are being defended on the grounds of “local control.” But where this line of reasoning gets it wrong is that it presumes local control ought to be the goal of policymaking.
Local control is a means to an end. To the extent that it can achieve or secure people’s natural rights to life, liberty and property, then it is to be commended. It is improper, however, to suggest that local control should be used as a kind of shield with which to infringe upon people’s liberties.
Ideas about local control and its proper place in the public policy sphere might seem abstract to some, but its application — or misapplication, as it were — has some very real and tangible consequences for Texas and its future.
Take the issue of local fracking bans, for example.
In November, Denton held a referendum on whether to allow private enterprises involved with hydraulic fracturing, aka “fracking,” to continue operating in their community. Backed by national environmentalists and other special interest groups, the anti-fracking campaign proved successful and the operation was banned within the city limits.
Some contend that Denton’s fracking ban was a local decision; but in the nation’s largest oil-producing state, a local decision like this has statewide economic implications affecting everything from revenue to employment to the prosperity of all. Consider what’s at stake.
Oil and gas-related economic activity created 21,100 jobs during the last year through January 2015, employs 2.7 percent of state’s labor force and generates 11 percent of total state revenue, according to the Texas comptroller.
These are just some of the very tangible results of the “Texas Model” of low taxes and commonsense regulation to advance economic prosperity.
And these results are being put at risk on account of an agenda-driven few who are riding roughshod over property owners and local businesses’ rights to use their property in a manner they deem appropriate.
Fortunately, common sense appears to be winning the day at the Texas Capitol. As the session has progressed, more and more lawmakers have proposed legislation that affirms the idea that local control is not a blank check.
Several bills are making their way through the legislative process to rein in unchecked local regulations that are either an affront to liberty, threaten Texas’ economic prosperity, or both.
As it relates to hydraulic fracturing, some of the more high-profile legislation moving through the process include bills like Senate Bill 1165 and House Bill 40, which would preempt municipalities from enacting certain restrictive regulations on oil and gas operators, while other bills like Senate Bill 440 would expressly prohibit fracking bans outright.
No doubt, big government apologists will call foul on these bills and other efforts to counter municipal micromanagement. But at the end of the day, the state, as a sovereign entity, has a responsibility to ensure that its political subdivisions are not enacting oppressive, economy-endangering policies.
Ultimately, it’s in Texans’ best interests if state and local policymakers look to liberty, not local control, as their guiding principle.
JAMES QUINTERO IS THE DIRECTOR OF THE CENTER FOR LOCAL GOVERNANCE AT THE TEXAS PUBLIC POLICY FOUNDATION