The Republican-led Legislature will step up its efforts to pre-empt decisions of local voters on issues ranging from local taxes to tree protection, bathroom use, annexation and driving while texting.
Listen: Fort Worth is not like Houston, and the loyalists of both towns are glad for that fact. Laredo and Texarkana are as different as the distance between them suggests. Austin is weird, the locals brag, but El Paso earned its own time zone, called, poetically enough, Mountain Time. Central Time is so middle-of-the-road.
In our system of government, there are times when a higher level needs to intervene with a lower level. The historic move to end state-enforced racial segregation comes to mind. Texas leaders’ current usurpation of local decision-making isn’t based on such moral urgency.
There’s a lot wrong here, but let’s start with the idea that the legislature is looking to preempt the decisions of local voters. If anything, lawmakers are looking to empower voters in the two biggest areas of city reform: ending forced annexation and creating a property tax trigger. If conservative reforms are adopted, the former would give property owners a chance to vote before being annexed while the latter would let taxpayers vote when their taxes grow too fast in any one year.
Next, while cities big and small do indeed have different character traits, the constitutional rights of Texans living in those communities are not distinct. Those rights extend to everyone equally and when they’re violated by a governmental entity, the legislature and the courts have an obligation to course correct.
It’s that duty to protect Texans’ property rights that’s behind the special session push to preempt tree-cutting ordinances, a case that’s been made stronger by the Texas Attorney General’s recent advisory opinion which found that these ordinances can, in fact, violate the Takings Clause of the Texas Constitution. That same urge is also behind the Foundation’s fight against the city of Austin’s short-term ordinance and our recent amicus brief filing with the Texas Supreme Court arguing against Laredo’s plastic bag ban.
Finally, to suggest that there’s no moral urgency to reform local public policy is to ignore reality. Texans are being taxed out of their homes, their constitutional rights are being violated, and their decisions about where and how to live are being ignored.
One has to wonder: how much more must Texans be trampled before Progress Texas would have us act?