An alliance of 18 urban and suburban mayors from across Texas is promoting a policy agenda for this year’s legislative session that emphasizes “local control,” a term often used by elected officials to describe policies that benefit local governments, not local citizens.
Texas’ Big City Mayors is a “bipartisan coalition” of mayors from the state’s most populous cities, representing nearly one-third of Texas residents.
While some of the mayors identify as Democrats and others as Republicans, their agenda shows unified support for policies that empower government at the expense of citizens.
Some of the mayors’ legislative priorities are even opposed by a majority of Texans.
Under local governance, for example, the mayors oppose legislation that “limits the ability of cities to advocate.” Mayors want to keep using tax dollars to lobby for laws that are often against taxpayers’ interests, even as taxpayer-funded lobbying is wildly unpopular with Texans of all party affiliations.
In a similar disconnect with citizens, the mayors support economic development “incentives” like the state-sanctioned school property tax breaks for select businesses that expired at the end of last year. Cities used the school tax break program in conjunction with municipal subsidies to attract companies. Lawmakers have already talked about reviving the program, while constituents in both parties oppose corporate welfare schemes that pick winners and losers and shift property tax burdens onto other businesses and homeowners.
Another alliance priority, which does align with the majority of Texans, is “meaningful property tax relief.” Yet most of the cities represented by the mayors have consistently raised their citizens’ property tax burdens year after year to support increased spending. In 2019, BCM member George Fuller, mayor of McKinney, spoke against property tax reform that gave local voters a say in how much cities can raise taxes.
Other priorities call for increased government spending on various projects and “common sense” gun control.
In the past, the group has endorsed policies ranging from the $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure spending bill to local mask mandates.
The dominant theme during Friday’s press conference was local control.
Arlington Mayor Jim Ross said mayors would oppose “any legislation that tries to take local control away from us.”
Ross also hit on another popular theme among the mayors, saying, “We need to have legitimate gun control enacted in this state.”
Mayor Ron Nirenberg of San Antonio said he appreciated comments by Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan during his swearing-in that “opened the door for some responsible conversations” on gun control.
Several mayors emphasized taxpayer-subsidized economic development. Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson said cities “need to have competitive tools” like the incentives and tax breaks she used to lure the first rare-earth minerals refinery in the U.S. to her city last year. Brownsville Mayor Trey Mendez agreed the subsidies are “crucial” to incentivize growth, while Plano Mayor John Muns said economic development and an educated workforce are “critical” for cities to attract new businesses.
Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker focused on early childhood education combined with childcare, while Houston Mayor (and former state representative) Sylvester Turner set his sights on the state’s “historic” $32 billion budget surplus, saying it should be used to “make a transformative investment in mental health services” for children and adults.
The current Big City Mayors are:
Ginger Nelson, Amarillo
Jim Ross, Arlington
Kirk Watson, Austin
Trey Mendez, Brownsville
Paulette Guajardo, Corpus Christi
Eric Johnson, Dallas
Gerard Hudspeth, Denton
Oscar Leeser, El Paso
Mattie Parker, Fort Worth
Ron Jensen, Grand Prairie
Sylvester Turner, Houston
Rick Stopfer, Irving
Victor Treviño, Laredo
Tray Payne, Lubbock
George Fuller, McKinney
John Muns, Plano
Ron Nirenberg, San Antonio (Chair)
Joe Zimmerman, Sugar Land
The 88th Texas Legislative Session is underway now through May 29.