This commentary originally appeared in San Antonio Express-News on October 7, 2014.
Sandy Oaks, just south of San Antonio, is the newest city in Texas. Last month, the town decided it wasn’t going to burden its residents with a property tax, relying instead on the sales tax to fund much of its operations.
In doing so, it joined the growing number of Texans incorporating their communities to adopt free-market, limited government policies to preserve liberty and get residents out from under the thumb of big government.
After voting to incorporate in May, and subsequently electing its City Council, Sandy Oaks faced the difficult decision of how to begin governing. Instead of rushing to tell landowners how to use their own property or pursuing expensive pet projects, the council quickly decided its first order of business was to establish sound fiscal policies to build a solid foundation for the future.
According to the mayor, 52 percent of the population is below the poverty line. Establishing a property tax would have placed a large burden on many of these residents. Many cities fail to realize property taxes are regressive, harming low-income residents who can least afford to pay them — a serious problem in many Texas cities, as indicated by the fact that the Tax Foundationrecently named Texas’ property taxes the 15th highest in the country. One way to start reversing that trend is for cities such as Sandy Oaks to realize that collecting a property tax is not necessary to provide important municipal services.
The city will collect revenue from franchise and sales taxes to provide core municipal services such as police and street maintenance, services that do not require the city to establish a high, regressive, job-killing property tax.
Too often, Texans hear that “change is coming,” that fiscal sanity and good governance are on the way. Then they wait and wait while elected officials fail to fulfill their promises. Well, Sandy Oaks didn’t want to wait. And it did not hesitate to act.
This is what local government is supposed to be — individuals voluntarily uniting to meet the needs of their community. In Sandy Oaks, residents came together to agree upon the provision of necessary services while also working to preserve and protect their rights. The English philosopher John Locke wrote that “for when any number of men have, by the consent of every individual, made a community, they have hereby made that community one body, with a power to act as one body.”
As Locke prescribed more than 300 years ago, “Liberty Cities” such as Sandy Oaks are taking government into their own hands, choosing liberty over the tax-and-spend model. If these communities want to establish city governments whose aim is to preserve, as opposed to infringe upon, the rights and wallets of the people they represent, that’s their right.
It’s also a shot across the bow for big government — because freedom-loving Texans are taking back their communities, one “Liberty City” at a time.
Jess Fields is the senior policy analyst with the Center for Local Governance at the