This commentary was originally featured in The Dallas Morning News on July 17, 2017
By any measure, Texas is the nation's premier land of opportunity, where initiative, a good work ethic and perseverance offer a significant chance for success. Though most signs point to the Lone Star juggernaut continuing, the Texas Legislature will need to take bolder steps to ensure that it does.
Put simply, the recently concluded legislative session fell far short of the transformational conservative, free-market reform required to nurture the so-called Texas Model.
The imminent special session offers an opportunity to do so. The time-tested, proven recipe for success in Texas has been low taxes, fair regulation and maximizing liberty while limiting government. This special session, Texans should demand their legislators not just pass one or two measures that essentially nibble on the edges. Comprehensive reform is needed to keep Texas a strong and competitive state.
What are those essentials? Legislators need to address escalating property taxes, create education opportunities for special-needs students, eliminate state collection of union dues, and put an end to forced annexation. These four reforms would secure, if not enhance, the Texas Model.
First, Texas is a relatively low-tax state overall, but our property taxes are the sixth-highest in America. In some areas, escalating tax bills threaten people's most important investment, their homes, and discourage business investment, the engine driving our prosperity. Worse still, many taxing authorities increase property tax rates with a murky process that is impossible for the average Texan to decipher — let alone participate in. Fixing this problem is crucial, therefore, both to our prosperity and to our democratic processes.
Second, Texas needs to expand education opportunities, especially for students with special needs. Texas has more than 1,000 school districts, many providing a quality education to the majority of students. The problem, however, is when a student is trapped in a failing school or even a good school that cannot address their specific needs. During the regular session, legislators had the opportunity to provide special-needs students with education funds that a family could direct to the best option for their child. They could also choose to fund additional tutoring and intervention services.
The beauty of the system would be that families could customize the solution for the specific needs of individual students when one-size-fits-all education just won't work. If Texas cannot adequately provide opportunities for the most vulnerable of our population, then how can we expect the state to remain at the forefront of liberty and opportunity?
Third, the Legislature should end the practice of the state automatically collecting membership dues for government employee labor unions. While Texans should have every right to participate in a union if they so choose, the reality of the current system is that an employee must opt-out — often with great pressure not to do so — rather than opt-in. While Texas is a "right to work" state that doesn't require union membership for employment, automatic payments skirts that right.
Additionally, by putting workers in complete control of whether they pay into the union or not, unions will have to be more responsive to the very constituency they claim to represent, the workers. Finally, it absolves the state of the problematic mixing of advocacy for political matters by creating a clear demarcation between union funding and government activity — a practice, not surprisingly, that has fueled opposition both to property tax reform and education reform.
Finally, Texas should end forced annexation. There is little I can think of that is more un-Texan than to allow cities to grab land and subject their neighbors to rules, regulations, taxes and liabilities for debts on which the landowners never voted. If annexation is really in the best interest of citizens and a city, let those who would be annexed vote. This practice is not merely a bureaucratic or economic problem: it's an abomination to liberty, and therefore to the Texas way.
While these four measures are by no means the only reforms that should be considered this session, they represent essential principles for making sure Texas stays Texas, a state with strong individual liberty and broad opportunity. They are the proven ingredients for Texas' continued success, and supported by a huge majority of Texas voters. Failing to enact these will be transformational for Texas — but in the decidedly wrong direction.