This commentary originally appeared in the Austin American-Statesman on July 7, 2015.

The city of Austin has a reputation for favoring big government solutions. A new report offers some stunning insight into just how deep this government-knows-best philosophy goes.

The gist of the Austin Resource Recovery’s report, “Environmental Effects of the Single Use Bag Ordinance in Austin, Texas,” is that Austinites can’t be trusted to make the right decisions on their own and instead need city officials to choose for them — even though those choices may be “unwanted.”

Here’s an excerpt:

“The most direct way to address and change the pre-existing norms is to craft legislation which is designed to alter the behavior of the citizen. Such was the case with the bag reduction ordinance passed in Austin. While some may view governmental involvement an imposition of unwanted control, it is often the case that heavier handed intervention techniques in the form of legislation mandating change become needed. And in this scenario, the more intense efforts will produce larger gains in terms of a social behavioral adaptation.”

The statements above show a shocking level of disregard for personal freedom. In the eyes of Austin officials, city government ought to be the hammer by which “social behavioral adaptation” is forged and policy made. This kind of governing philosophy raises some very troubling questions.

For instance, if an elite few in city government are allowed to mandate change on a reluctant public, then what safeguards exist to protect Texans’ rights to life, liberty and property? What objective criteria do city officials use to determine the kinds of policies that should be imposed on unwilling Austinites? And is the city’s plastic bag ban more about protecting the environment or exercising control over a reluctant population?

But perhaps the biggest question is this: Why is this type of local social engineering allowed to persist in today’s Texas?

Most Austinites, and certainly a majority of Texans, probably would agree that city government ought to be focused on fixing potholes and providing for public safety, not coming up with schemes to “alter the behavior” of residents. This sort of meddlesome government intrusion is unwelcome — a fact that’s alluded to in the report, which found a double-digit decrease in public support for Austin’s plastic bag ban.

Austin is not alone. Across the state, liberty is under fire by bad local government policy.

There seems to be almost no area of daily life not touched or under threat from local government overreach. Depending on where a Texan lives, he or she might be told what kind of bags they can use at the grocery store, or how many trees he or she can have on their property, or what kind of businesses can exist within the city limits — or even whether he or she will live in the city limits paying higher taxes thanks to forced annexation.

And, of course, all of this is in the context of Texans paying some of the highest property taxes in the nation, supporting fast-growing and excessive local budgets, and drowning in a sea of local debt.

Texas’ local government landscape is littered with bad policies and terrible ideological underpinnings. This sort of big government mentality should not be allowed to continue unchallenged, lest Texas risk losing the liberty and prosperity that has been achieved at the state level.

Quintero is director of the Center for Local Governance at the Texas Public Policy Foundation; [email protected].