With the return of the Texas Legislature only six months away, many are already gearing up for a fight that will define the session and the role of government for years to come. A battle is brewing between the multi-headed monster of local governments and some in the legislature seeking to protect the rights of citizens.
Though conservatives have kept the growth of state government relatively in check over the past several years, local governments have been growing in both size and power. While out-of-control property taxes and egregious appraisal hikes have caused the most damage, perhaps even more burdensome are the mountains of red tape and regulations piled on by municipalities.
Some notable examples of local nanny-state regulations include bans on texting while driving, plastic shopping bags, and tree trimming.
Many are more annoying than economically damaging, but some policies have actually killed jobs and economic opportunity on a wide scale. These include restrictions on ridesharing companies such as Uber and Lyft that put thousands out of work, drilling bans that force small businesses to shut down, and “amortization” laws that allow localities to avoid eminent domain protections and re-zone entrepreneurs out of business.
All have been passed by cities across the Lone Star State as part of what Gov. Greg Abbott has called a “patchwork quilt of bans and regulations that is eroding the Texas model.” The local assault on property rights has already garnered an opening response from the Texas Legislature.
Last year, lawmakers overturned an ordinance passed by the City of Denton that directly challenged the state’s authority to regulate the oil and gas industry. In doing so, lawmakers sharply curtailed the authority of local governments to prohibit property owners from exploiting their own mineral rights and enhanced the protections already provided to landowners.
Now, after the defeat of Proposition 1 in Austin, which aimed to repeal local ridesharing regulations, conservative lawmakers have announced plans to address that issue via state law as well.
They won’t face just the City of Austin and its lobby team. Multiple municipalities such as Corpus Christi, Houston, and others are on the cusp of passing their own regulations to restrict ridesharing.
While targeted intervention aimed at reigning in local governments is certainly welcome relief, it will do little to address the root of the issue—the power of local governments has already expanded far beyond what is acceptable. Though one issue might be “solved” by state action, without passing systematic protections, municipalities will be free to abuse Texans on everything else that’s left unaddressed.
Other innovative companies with satisfied customers, such as AirBnB, are already facing regulatory hurdles. AirBnB is a company that allows individuals to rent out their homes to guests, a model that already faces challenges from local regulations. It’s not local control, it’s local tyranny.
Indeed, the scenario currently facing Texas is redolent of the myth of Heracles and the Hydra, a serpent headed monster terrorizing citizens in the town of Lerna.
According to the myth, the Greek hero attempted to dispatch the monster by slicing off its head with his sword—only for two more heads to rise in its place. While Heracles continued to battle the beast in such a fashion, he was successful only in increasing the number of heads and correspondingly the danger the monster posed. It was only after Heracles enlisted the aid of his nephew, who cauterized the neck wounds in order to prevent the heads from returning, that the hero was able to succeed in vanquishing his enemy.
To protect Texans’ liberties, the Texas Legislature must vanquish the Local Government Hydra in the same fashion.
Lawmakers will not prevail by simply “cutting off heads” and pre-empting the most egregious local ordinances while allowing new ones to take their place. Instead, legislators should take a pro-active approach by passing laws that explicitly restrict local governments from continuing their runaway crusade against Texans’ liberties. Only then will Texans be truly safe from local over-regulators.