A long-standing political saw seems to be “evolving” in Austin. The old wisdom that the best governing decisions are made closest to home is being challenged with a new twist—that state government protection is needed against local overreach. The apparent “goose v. gander” theoretical inconsistency of applying that same twist to federal-state relations is waved away with: 1) since states had to approve formation of the national government, and created local governments, they rule; and, 2) market stability needs regulatory consistency, which only the state can provide (and the “hodgepodge” of varying local laws and rules only thwarts).
As a result, there have been many bills filed during the 85th Texas Legislature’s regular session to limit when local bond elections could be held, limiting the authority of political subdivisions (i.e., cities, counties, ISDs, etc.) regarding what types of rules or ordinances they may adopt, and putting conditions on the ability to fund budget increases to pay for local governance. Generally speaking, the 25 members who volunteered as bill analysts this session mostly responded, “We’re not convinced the State of Texas knows better than all these political entities what their voters want or how much or well they (should) govern themselves.”
Consequently, the Society has testified against some of these bills—HB 151, for example, which would establish a “once annually” opportunity to vote on bond proposals (during November elections). We opposed this bill for administrative and market imbalance reasons. “Market saturation,” a phenomenon that would create a significantly overheated demand for design and construction materials and labor, thereby all but assuring dramatically higher costs for these products and services, would result. HB 151 supporters said that the sale of bonds wasn’t required immediately after approval, but human nature and experience being what they are, that’s what has happened in the past and what will certainly happen following the next election, too.
We signed up in opposition to the filed version of HB 3418, though we didn’t testify. (Norman Alston, testifying officially on behalf of AIA Dallas, described the profession’s position quite eloquently.) This bill would limit grounds for determining when a structure could be considered historic, and didn’t include a specific allowance for recognizing architectural significance alone (i.e., without requiring a famous person to have lived there, or a specific “recognizable” event to have occurred there). While local communities don’t attach the same importance to various criteria, that’s not a bad thing; it’s more important that each community agree on what’s important to it.
Polling done by the Texas Politics Project a couple of months ago showed a 10-point margin for local control versus state override. Approval for the state to call the shots registered 29% support, where local determination got 39%, and the other 32% either didn’t know or expressed no opinion. Another question during that same polling period was “Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of local government(s)? Combining the two favorable (“very” and “somewhat”) categories into a single number, and doing the same for “unfavorable” responses resulted in 47% “Favorables,” 25% neither favorable or “un,” and a 24% “Unfavorable” totals.
What do you think? We would love to hear from you, which would also allow us to come up with architect-specific numbers. (If enough of you do it, we’ll contrast where the profession sits against numerous categories the Texas Politics Project counted—things like by political party, age, education, geography, etc.)
C’mon, it’ll be fun to see where you stand in comparison with the general population. You know you’re special; that’s why you were drawn to this profession. Weigh in now so we’ll know better how to respond when this comes back up again in two years—and it will be back front-and-center again in 2019—unless the 2018 elections change a whole boatload of players.
Well both. We don’t want every city to have a different drinking age or voting requirements but we don’t need the state telling cities when to vote on school bonds. Could common sense save the day?
I express, strongly, local control versus state as well presented in TSA’s article. Aside from legalistic gymnastics and gerrymandering, if State’s rights are on solid ground in the public interest, so should Local rights in determining issues described.
I appreciate TSA’s advocacy, focus and time spent. Thanks!
Glad you are on our side. I have been doing commercial architecture and construction for 35 + years. Am on the Edwards Aquifer Board. Very concerned with SB1215. Would be happy to give you any information that you like.
SB 1215 is no longer a current problem given the major overhaul done on the House floor—followed by Gov. Abbott’s veto. The issue will be back next session, and we will be working on it between now and then—with both legislators and constructor groups—and may well be in touch soon to learn what you have to say. Also, I don’t believe “large-owner” groups (i.e., Texas Oil & Gas Assn., Chemical Council, etc.) will wait so late to get involved in 2019. Be please stay in touch…both with us and, even more critically, your state Representative(s) and Senator(s).
While I think that regional planning has much merit in helping to protect natural resources and curb sprawl, I am sure that local government has a better grip on local issues. As much as we complain about the difficulties of building in Austin, I think that citizens have a voice that is heard better locally than at the state level. Our AIA Austin is able to work in tandem with the City on code and zoning issues.
Local control is much better than state control. It’s hypocritical of state leaders to overturn local decision while at the same time resist federal interference, and it is a poor reflection on the character of our state leadership.
We don’t need stuck-in-the-past Legislators restricting local initiatives to move forward and compete in the global economy, especially in our educational system.
Thanks for the positive feedback, Wendy. Houston, as the largest exporting U.S. port, is in the thick of that global economy so I can see why you think the way you do about keeping your local options as broad as possible.
While there are clearly issues, laws and regulations that should be addressed by the state, the decisions that affect our local communities the most are best made locally. We – the elected and the electors – are accountable to each other. The irony of the state’s argument given their vociferous battles with the federal government is worthy of late night comedy fodder. I wish they could spend this energy funding public education.
Local control is absolutely the best and most responsive form of government. There are certainly issues that require state laws and regulations. However, local government is designed around the notion that quality of life issues are best handled by each community.
Sounds like something a local elected official would say!
Local control has proven to be problematic, in my experience, in that the local city governance is
in contempt of a district court order, stopping one attempt at illegal annexation. In addition, illegal Home Rule attempts have been made, all being protested by the local citizens. No citizen, or informed group of citizens, has the finances to challenge the city legally. The state regulations and rules are all that have provided any protections against the rogue attempts of the city to illegally annex properties, over the years.
John, please let me draw a distinction between annexation and other municipal ordinances/actions. In the former case, state rules or law can serve as arbiter between two parties (incorporated vs. unincorporated) and/or two or more entities (cities, counties, etc.); in the case of the “other” ordinances or actions, it seems to be a more obvious over-ruling of a political subdivision by the “chartering” institution, in this case the State of Texas. There is a long history of cities governing in areas not otherwise regulated by the state, however…as long as such governance isn’t in conflict with state or federal law, and those deciding such governance issues are accountable to voters—and that is what is now being challenged at the state level. That’s the big difference I was trying to describe in my blog, and I hope my explanation makes sense. (I hope I’m smart enough not to get myself in the middle of any annexation struggle; I don’t know enough about it, and I’m not smart enough even to try to fake my way through it.) Thank you for sharing your opinion.