On Sunday, the Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs met to consider SB 6, a reform to current annexation policy and one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s twenty named agenda items for the special session.
Currently, property owners have little recourse should they find themselves the targets of a municipality’s annexation program. This means cities can force homeowners to pay for debts incurred by a body they didn’t elect – and without any say in the matter. SB 6 would reform current procedures so cities located in a county with a population above 500,000 (this selective application is known as “bracketing”) would need the approval of the homeowners being annexed via election or petition process.
“I wish it hadn’t been bracketed at all. Every Texan deserves a chance to vote,” said the bill’s author Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) to applause in the gallery. “But like a football game, you take a first down…”
“I plan on looking closer at those brackets, and possibly filing an amendment on the floor to remove those brackets,” said Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown).
To clarify, municipalities that span multiple counties would be wholly classified under the densest county in which the city finds itself.
Annexation reform is just one of twenty items Gov. Abbott placed on the call for the special session. He even referred to the current practice as ‘un-Texan’ in a recent op-ed. The reform was killed in the eleventh hour during the regular session, when Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio) filibustered the bill to death.
SB 6 predictably attracted the usual opposition when it comes to anything that moves decision-making authority from bureaucrats to citizens. Mayors, tax-funded lobbyists, and city employees gave the typical doom-and-gloom predictions about cities’ ability to provide services, etc.
Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) entertained some of the opposition by citing Detroit, saying their bankruptcy was due to their inability to annex people into their tax base involuntarily and asking whether or not this could happen to cities in Texas.
In testifying against the bill, Sugar Land’s mayor, Joe Zimmerman, claimed the city already takes plenty of public input and that people’s voices are heard in meetings.
“In all the research we’ve done, we’ve never seen a city reverse their annexation plans based on hearings at public meetings,” said Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe).
The City of San Antonio also sent a representative who cited economic development and service provision as a benefit of annexation. Contrarily, however, some of the recently annexed areas in San Antonio receive such sub-par services that it arguably violates the Texas Constitution.
The overwhelming majority of the testimony, however, was in support of the bill. Homeowners who deliberately choose to live outside of major cities detailed their capacity to provide their own services and desire to stay outside of city limits.
“Involuntary annexation wasn’t cool when the Germans did it to Poland, it wasn’t cool when the Soviet Union did it, and it isn’t cool when the cities of Austin, San Antonio, and Houston do it here in Texas,” blogger Adam Cahn stated in his testimony to applause in the gallery.