The Dallas Morning News’ recent article, Texas legislators mostly kept hands off local control, offers an interesting but incomplete assessment of the 84th Regular Session’s fight to rein in local overreach.
From the article:
Spooked by Gov. Greg Abbott’s push against “unchecked overregulation” and by tea party Republicans who filed bills to limit local government, North Texas mayors, city managers and county judges braced for battle.
But with one major exception — a measure that stops cities from banning the drilling practice known as fracking — municipal leaders in Dallas and beyond have declared this year’s session largely a success.
First, that local government overreach even received as much attention as it did is a major success for conservatives, especially in a session dominated by talk of tax relief, the state budget, gun rights, and ethics reform. It’s even more encouraging that top state officials, like Governor Abbott, were publicly forthcoming in expressing their concerns over “unchecked over-regulation by cities” and the “California-zation” of Texas. This session’s very public discussion of the problem bodes well for future efforts to get the liberal interpretation of “local control” under control.
Conservatives did more than just recognize the problem though. In addition to preventing municipal fracking bans, the 84th session saw:
- Structural property tax reform. The legislature now requires localities to achieve a supermajority before raising property taxes;
- Local debt reform. Lawmakers made some commonsense reforms to the way that local governments can issue certificates of obligation (COs), or non-voter approved debt;
- Local debt reform (cont.). Lawmakers reined in the localities’ use capital appreciation bonds (CABs). School districts, in particular, were abusing CABs to get around the 50-cent debt limit;
- Local debt reform (cont. again). The legislature took steps to stop local governments from continuing to use “rolling polling,” whereby an entity will move polling locations during the early voting process to target certain voting populations in the hopes of achieving a certain outcome; and
- Greater Government Transparency. Lots of new requirements for local governments to provide the public with more and better access to information.
And although legislation to prevent cities from enacting likely illegal plastic bag bans didn’t pass, all the bills filed—many by North Texas lawmakers—raised public awareness which undoubtedly helped put pressure on the Dallas City Council as they voted yesterday to repeal the city’s 5-cent fee on plastic bags. Already, efforts are underway to duplicate conservatives’ success in Dallas in other cities with similar restrictions.
True, conservatives didn’t achieve everything that we set out to do this session. Many reforms, including involuntary annexation reform, restoring local pension control, and ballot box transparency, were left on the table for a later date. But it’s simply not true to suggest that the liberal interpretation of “local control” went unchallenged or unchanged in the 84th session.