Earlier this month, Harris County—the most populous county in Texas—launched a guaranteed income pilot program, known as Uplift Harris. The purported purpose of the program is to: “provide no-strings-attached $500 monthly cash payments to 1,928 Harris County residents for 18 months in hopes of providing a financial cushion that can help close the wealth gap.” Needless to say, a grand government giveaway of this type is bad for any number of reasons (and you can read more about those here).
But now, an influential Texas senator has raised another critical issue—the program is likely unconstitutional.
- Do counties have the authority to enact a guaranteed income program?
- Would such a policy violate the gift prohibition clause in the Texas Constitution?
In both cases, the answers seem obvious (no and yes!); however, as I am not an attorney, no one should consider my legal advice sound. Still, a plain language reading of Article III, Sec. 52 of the Texas Constitution appears to bar local governments from doling out public money for private gain. The clause in question reads in part [emphasis mine]:
Sec. 52. RESTRICTIONS ON LENDING CREDIT OR MAKING GRANTS BY POLITICAL CORPORATIONS OR POLITICAL SUBDIVISIONS; AUTHORIZED BONDS; INVESTMENT OF FUNDS. (a) Except as otherwise provided by this section, the Legislature shall have no power to authorize any county, city, town or other political corporation or subdivision of the State to lend its credit or to grant public money or thing of value in aid of, or to any individual, association or corporation whatsoever, or to become a stockholder in such corporation, association or company.
So, if the Texas Constitution bars the Legislature from allowing political subdivisions, like Harris County, to hand out public money to private parties, then how can it be argued that the program is constitutional in any way? It can’t, which is why the Foundation’s experts have referred to these schemes as “constitutionally suspicious” and “likely unconstitutional.”
Whatever the outcome, it might be time for the Texas Legislature to revisit the various use of public fund prohibitions and strengthen them in the interest of Texas taxpayers.