Texas is a red state governing over blue cities.
The “great divide” between state and local governance is quite apparent, especially on fiscal matters. Texas’ state government has a spending limit; local governments do not and resist one at every turn. State debt relatively manageable; local debt is among the highest in the nation. State government routinely looks for ways to lower taxes; local governments’ primary tax, the property tax, is stuck on skyrocket.
Beginning in earnest last session, state lawmakers began proposing and passing legislation aimed at reining in some of these local excesses, and next session is shaping up to be no different with many high-profile issues in the crosshairs (e.g. local debt, annexation, property taxes, state-governed pension plans, and municipal micromanagement of ridesharing to name a few). But Texas is far from alone in trying to rein in local policymaking run amok.
From yesterday’s Wall Street Journal:
“GOP statehouse gains in 2014 led to an ‘unprecedented and historic’ use of pre-emption on local environmental, social and public health policy, [Mark Pertschuk, director of Preemption Watch] said. Last year, at least 29 states considered laws that would pre-empt cities from adopting policies that are stronger than state law on social, public health and environmental issues, he said.
Conservative lawmakers say they are using pre-emption to block policies pushed by special interests, such as environmental groups seeking bans on plastic products, and unions pushing an expansion of worker sick leave.”
“They lost control in the state house, so they’re trying to do a workaround by having local governments pass things that can’t get through,” [Jon Russell, executive director of the American City-County Exchange] said. “It’s happening over and over and over again.”
There’s clearly a broader national conversation happening here, and it’s not one that’s likely to be concluded for quite some time. In the short-run, however, Texas state lawmakers will, once again, have a chance to lead by example by putting local control in its proper context and passing reforms to address some of the many local tyrannies that have begun to emerge in the Lone Star State.