Texas is among a handful of states that still allows “involuntary” or forced annexation. Under current state law, cities in most Texas counties are free to expand their borders without obtaining approval from property owners. This allows politicians to impose city taxes and regulations on Texans who didn’t elect them, without their permission.
Despite attempts at reforming the state’s annexation laws in a way that would protect Texans’ property rights from local government overreach, the Texas Legislature failed to put an end to forced annexation last session. Instead, state lawmakers passed municipal annexation reform that only applied in the state’s largest counties, leaving Texans in rural counties unprotected from city land grabs.
The new annexation law divides counties into two groups or “tiers” and doles out property rights protections based on population size. Cities in “Tier 2” counties, defined as having 500,000 or more residents, must get property owners’ consent before annexing them. Fewer than a dozen counties currently qualify as Tier 2. Cities in all the other Texas counties, designated “Tier 1,” are still allowed to annex unincorporated property without asking the owners’ permission.
The law does provide a process for Tier 1 county residents to adopt protected Tier 2 status. Ten percent of a county’s registered voters must sign a petition to get a Tier 2 opt-in question on the ballot for voter approval. So far, residents of six Texas counties have successfully completed the petition process and voted for Tier 2 status. But they shouldn’t have to.
Cities annex property because they desire not just the perceived “greater good” of growth, but also more tax revenue and regulatory control (money and power). It should come as no surprise that city governments and their taxpayer-funded lobbyists in the Texas Municipal League fought annexation reform legislation in both the regular and special 2017 sessions, placing local government interests ahead of local taxpayers.
Local officials should not be allowed to force themselves onto powerless taxpayers who didn’t elect them. All cities — not just those in Texas’ largest counties or whose residents jump through hoops — should be required to obtain approval from residents they seek to govern prior to taxing and regulating their lives.
Moreover, the same annexation rules should apply to all Texans in every county, large and small. All Texans’ property rights should be protected equally.
Involuntary annexation is not based on the Texas ideal of liberty, but on the idea that the ends justify the means. It’s difficult to find a more un-American and un-Texan law than forced annexation.
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