Editorial: Austin’s tightening grip on local government

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Dallas Morning News

bootIt appears our so-called limited-government Legislature in Austin will stop at absolutely nothing to impose big-government control on Texas cities.

These efforts run the gamut from rolling back local regulations on payday lenders and gas drillers to seeking to curtail the long-established taxing authority of city councils and school districts.

The most pernicious effort to date, however, has come from a relatively short bill filed by Rep. Phil King, a Weatherford Republican.

In fewer than 400 words, King’s bill, HB 540, could gut local voters’ ability to pass ordinances in their own cities and towns without the express consent of the state’s attorney general.

Today in Texas, that would be Attorney General Ken Paxton, a man ideologically opposed to many of the local ordinances that residents of towns across this state have gone to the polls to pass.

Whether a local ordinance passes muster with state law and the U.S. Constitution is important. An ordinance that can’t stand up to that test must fall.

T at Arlingto nBut that judgment is the purview of our state and federal courts after a law is passed. Constitutionality is not, and should not, be based on a prior determination of Austin politicians and bureaucrats lifting up a political agenda.

The cause of all this couldn’t be any clearer.

The voters of Denton took a bold stand last year when they went to the polls fed up with the way their city has fared under loose hydraulic fracturing restrictions.

Denton’s residents voted to ban fracking in their city — a move that angered powerful interests in this state and drew a swift lawsuit from the oil and gas industry.

It’s also a move this newspaper disagreed with, on the grounds that city and industry should have worked harder on negotiating. But, as we urged then, that’s not to say such decisions should be taken out of cities’ hands. Unfortunately, under this legislation, it’s all but certain Denton voters never would have had their day at the polls.

Paxton’s office appears eager to take on the work of reviewing draft ordinances before voters or the courts ever get a chance to have a say.

The Texas Association of Business, the Texas Oil & Gas Association, the Texas Restaurant Association and the Texas Association of Builders are all lined up behind this bill.

And why wouldn’t they be? This gives their industries a much more direct hand in controlling the way our cities are governed.

“You cannot have rational economic development at the state level if every home-rule city can adopt an ordinance through referendum or initiative that trumps the state law,” said Steven Minick of the business association.

In fact, we have always had rational economic development in this prosperous state with local voters able to have a strong say in what can and cannot happen in their cities.

The Texas Municipal League has wisely stood up against this attempt to usurp local governance and impose authority from Austin.

We should all do the same.

 MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD

Contact state Rep. Phil King and urge him to withdraw his bill by calling 512-463-0738.

Contact your legislator to register your opposition to HB 540. To find who represents you and how to contact them, go to fyi.legis.state.tx.us and type in your address.

Email forms are available at members’ legislative websites, at house.state.tx.us.

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