This commentary was originally featured in San Antonio Express-News on July 30, 2017.
No taxation without representation is central to the American experience. War has been waged, lives lost, and treasure spent in pursuit of it. Gallons of ink have been spilled over it and transformational documents based upon it. And the world’s greatest nation was birthed because of it.
And yet, taxing people without their consent or counsel still happens in today’s America—and in the Lone Star State no less. Only these days it goes by another name—forced annexation—and is defended as a tool of municipal management.
Texas is one of the few remaining states that still permits forced annexation, a practice that allows home-rule cities to unilaterally expand their boundaries and capture property owners living on the outskirts. Texans forcibly annexed by a city are subject to higher taxes, tougher regulations, and a lot more debt, whether they like it or not.
Property owners absorbed into a city face some potentially steep tax increases. In 2015, the city of San Antonio’s Department of Planning and Community Development published a controversial report estimating likely property tax bills resulting from full purpose annexation. Astonishingly, the report found that homeowners in the city’s crosshairs could be socked with a 22 percent tax hike.
Similarly grim, double-digit tax increases await property owners in other areas too. In Central Texas, for example, residents of Hudson Bend, River Place, and Wells Branch have been fighting annexation by Austin for years out of fear of equally explosive tax bills.
None of this should sit well. Texans deserve better than to be conscripted by city officials they didn’t elect, to pay taxes for things they didn’t ask for, and to service debt they didn’t authorize. A system like that is nothing short of tyrannical and it runs counter to who we are as a state and a nation.
If there’s a silver lining in all of this, it’s that Texans may not have to suffer these circumstances much longer.
Earlier this month, Gov. Greg Abbott directed state lawmakers to tackle in a special session many important issues, including municipal annexation reform. The Senate has passed its version. With annexation reform having made the governor’s list of priorities, conservatives have a good shot at righting this terrible wrong.
Efforts to reform the system will center on giving Texans the right to vote before being annexed.
In the last regular session, big government advocates were able to stymie reform with some last minute political shenanigans, those tactics won’t work as well this time around because there’ll be far fewer bills flying about the process and the media spotlight will be more intense.
Hopefully, this means that conservative policy solutions, like affording the annexed a chance to vote, will be debated on the merits. And if that’s the case, then it’s hard to see how a system that perpetuates taxation without representation survives.
Supporters of the status quo will, no doubt, do their best to stop reform from happening, but forced annexation is indefensible. It denies people the right to participate in the democratic process. It ignores people’s prerogative to choose how and where to live. And it fosters a warped system of wealth redistribution, letting city planners funnel money from the suburbs to the urban core.
All of these reasons add up to mean that it’s time to end forced annexation by giving affected property owners a chance to vote. Only by giving them a voice in the process can we live up to our founding principles.