This commentary originally appeared in the Midland Reporter-Telegram on July 20, 2015
Enshrined within the founding documents of both the United States and Texas is the belief that government derives its power from the consent of the governed. That individuals have the right to liberty and private property is fundamental to a free society, and Texans, more than any, hold these principles close to their hearts.
However, even in the Lone Star State, these foundational beliefs aren’t always observed. Take the issue of annexation, for example.
As people flock to Texas, attracted by its low taxes and limited government outlook, they are increasingly choosing to live in more suburban areas located outside of the city limits. Some municipalities, seeking to poach these bustling burbs, have begun expanding their borders in a rush to grab land and tax receipts. But by doing so, officials are forcing big-city taxes and regulations on residents who, by their actions, wanted no such thing, effectively ignoring their right to vote with their feet.
One high-profile example of this policy-in-action is happening in the city of San Antonio, where officials are mulling over plans to annex over 66 square miles of new territory and absorb an estimated 200,000 Texans, many of whom will have no say in the process. In response to this great Texas land grab, a fascinating backlash has begun in which people living outside of San Antonio are mobilizing and incorporating into liberty-minded cities to escape annexation.
At the state level, people concerned about private property rights are also trying to realize reform.
Conservatives sought to remedy forced annexation in the 84th session with two widely hailed bills — House Bill 2221 and Senate Bill 1639 — that were nearly passed into law, but ultimately failed due to legislative shenanigans. Already though, good government reformers are looking to the next legislative session to see that some important reforms are achieved.
One such reform is requiring the municipality initiating the annexation to write-up a written contract for services that it proposes to provide to the annexed territory and present it in at least two public hearings. These hearings would allow individuals concerned with the annexation a chance to be heard and have their apprehensions addressed before the process actually begins.
Another is to require annexing cities to get a majority of the voters or landowners within the territory to approve of the annexation before moving forward. For areas with less than 200 residents this could be done via petition, while areas with over 200 residents could be allowed to vote on the issue in a regularly scheduled election.
One final reform has to do with streamlining the annexation process. If property owners agree to a proposed annexation, then the bureaucratic process ought to be shortened to no more than a couple of weeks, as opposed to the years that it sometimes takes.
Reforms like those mentioned above are an important safeguard to reforming a process that contradicts the noble principles of our founding by denying many Texans the right to liberty and property. If an individual wishes to live in within city limits they are free to move there, but they should never be forced into that situation without an opportunity to object.
Looking ahead to the 2017 legislative session, this is going to be a hot-button issue for those interested in upholding the spirit of self-governance and individual liberty.