For years Texas has thrived at the state level of government with the yoke of taxation lightened and the burden of regulation being lifted. Meanwhile the local government has grown to fill that void–rapidly expanding in size and scope while chafing under the rules that the state has set forth.
With local governments coming in and challenging the state’s authority on a host of issues from plastic bags to ridesharing regulations a showdown has been on the horizon for quite some time.
During every child’s life there comes at least one time when he or she will act out and defy their parents’ instruction on an issue. If that child is in Texas, they’re very liable to hear one (or both) parents inform them that those actions have consequences:
“I brought you into this world, and I can take you out of it.”
Texas’ city and county officials need to hear the same message. What those officials fail to understand is that the entities they represent were created by the state. As such, they exist at the sole discretion of the state of Texas–and are wholly subordinate.
In short, cities and counties in Texas are able to enact local ordinances only within their limited purview and are heavily constrained by the Texas Constitution and state law.
To defend themselves, local politicians and bureaucrats are fond of using “local control” rhetoric–but only when it allows them to expand their own fiefdoms.
On a host of issues such as the open carry of firearms and fracking these governments have argued for the ability to set their own rules (i.e. ban them) because they are closer to the people and know their desires better than lawmakers in Austin.
Meanwhile, they never advocate anything that would benefit taxpayers, vehemently opposing them instead. Reforms such as local debt transparency, debt limits, property tax limits, appraisal caps, and more would protect the very people these officials claim to represent yet are strongly opposed by these elected officials seeking to protect their turf.
It should come as no surprise that Texas continues to see a hodgepodge of rules being implemented locally, creating uncertainty about what the law is depending on what zip code you happen to be in at the moment. This can be seen with regards to the rampant growth of social-engineering regulations such as plastic bag bans, texting while driving bans, and ridesharing company regulations.
At what point does “local control” become local tyranny?
First, we should assess whether a law creates an impractical patchwork of regulation. If so, the state has a vested interest in a uniformity of the freedom it’s citizens enjoy.
Secondly, we should ask whether the imposition of a new law implicates a liberty interest. And not simply a foundational right, like the right to bear arms, but, as the 9th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees, all of the other contractual, property, and individual rights retained by the people. If so, this interest should be weighed against the purported benefits of the local rule.
It should be noted that local control has many benefits.
One size fits all solutions don’t always work at the local level in places like public education, zoning, fire codes, etc. There should be a balance between local control and liberty, however, and local control must be distinguished as a tool for good governance, rather than a ham-fisted rule.
Failure to do so risks the “California-zation” of our great state.
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