This commentary originally appeared in the Amarillo Globe-News on February 21, 2015.
Gov. Greg Abbott created a bit of a stir recently when he warned that local government overregulation is leading to the California-zation of Texas.
In his remarks at Texas Public Policy Foundation’s 13th annual Policy Orientation, Abbott highlighted the problem of unchecked local regulation: “The truth is, Texas is being California-ized with bag bans, fracking bans, (and) tree-cutting bans. We are forming a patchwork quilt of bans and rules and regulations that are eroding the Texas Model.”
Abbott continued: “Some cities are telling citizens you don’t own some of the things on your property that you have purchased and owned for a long time, things like trees. This is a form of collectivism.”
And, of course, he’s right.
More and more municipalities are passing nanny state restrictions and regulations that infringe upon Texans’ personal freedoms, property rights, and livelihood. Indeed, there seems to be no nook or cranny too small to escape the growing regulatory reach of Texas’ local governments.
The glut of new rules and restraints run the gamut from the types of businesses allowed within city limits to the kind of bags a person can use at the grocery store to the things a person can and cannot do in the privacy of their own vehicle.
More often than not, the justification given for these intrusions hinges on “local control,” or the state-afforded authority granted to communities to govern certain policy areas. Local governments know best how to solve their problems, or so the thinking goes.
But where this rationale frequently goes off the rails is in its emphasis of local control over other, more important governing principles, such as liberty.
Liberty, not local control, is the overriding principle that should inform and direct our public policy makers. For without liberty, local control simply becomes a means toward the end of local tyranny.
It is through the lens of liberty that Texas’ elected officials ought to be crafting public policies so as to protect and promote those inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. To the extent that a law or regulation violates these core values, it should be immediately suspect.
That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for reasonable regulations; but, as Gov. Abbott’s comments allude to, local government micromanagement is threatening to turn the Texas miracle into the California nightmare. It is time for the state to rein in some of these excesses.
Some might balk at the idea of Legislature tamping down on local overregulation, but it’s important to remember that municipalities are creatures of the state and they derive their authority from state government. As such, putting the kibosh on local government overreach is a perfectly legitimate exercise for state officials to undertake, especially when it’s done in defense of liberty.
The mishmash of restrictive regulations that ought to come under scrutiny from the new Legislature include those mentioned by Abbott — Denton’s fracking ban, San Antonio’s tree-cutting ban, and the many, likely illegal plastic bag ban and fee ordinances that have been enacted around Texas — as well as onerous ride-
sharing regulations that have made it difficult for companies like Uber and Lyft to operate.
Undoubtedly, local governments and the numerous associations that represent them at the Capitol will not take kindly to the idea that local control is secondary to liberty.
But the future of Texas depends on our ability to refute the notion that government knows best, at whichever level it may be.
Because, as the old saying goes, when government is limited, the people prosper.
James Quintero is the director of the center for local governance at Texas Public Policy Foundation, a nonprofit, free-market research institute in Austin. He can be reached at [email protected].