Local officials across Texas are doing a bad thing when they enact restrictions on what residents or businesses may do, soon-to-be Gov. Greg Abbott says.
He even has a name for it that conjures up notions of liberal elites run amok: Texas, he says, is being “California-ized.”
Well! We certainly don’t want that, do we?
The way Abbott puts it, it sounds like unless some higher power — like the governor and/or the Legislature — steps in and saves us, we’re headed down the road to ruin.
But wait. Save us from what? Ourselves?
At a conference in Austin sponsored by the free-market-oriented Texas Public Policy Foundation think tank, Abbott complained about “a patchwork quilt of bans and rules and regulations that are eroding the Texas model.”
He cited these examples of where officials in some cities are going wrong: restrictions on the use of plastic shopping bags, limits on tree-cutting by property owners and bans on fracking oil and gas wells.
Such local rules, he said, are “a form of collectivism.”
The “Texas model,” as frequently cited by Abbott’s predecessor, Gov. Rick Perry, refers to a low-tax, relatively regulation-free environment that encourages business expansion and job growth.
Plastic bag bans are awfully small potatoes to be dragged into such a high-stakes discussion. Voters have all the clout they need to replace any elected official they feel is on the wrong side of a bag ban.
Ordinances that restrict tree-cutting are a little more serious. Abbott seems to believe that a property owner ought to be able to cut down any tree they own.
But Flower Mound, for example, has a well-established tree ordinance dating back to 1993 and updated significantly in 2008. It’s there because the people of Flower Mound decided they want to preserve the town’s forested areas, not see them clear-cut for each new housing development.
Developers seem to have adapted well. Why is it wrong for a community to take control of its own destiny in this way?
But the most significant of Abbott’s examples is the fracking ban. Plastic bags and even the right to cut down trees are nowhere near as serious in Texas as interfering with oil and gas drilling.
He can only be talking about Denton, where residents approved such a ban in a November citywide vote. Activists, saying they were fed up with gas wells being drilled too close to their homes, got enough signatures on a petition to call an election.
Only hours after the polls closed, oil and gas interests and the state’s General Land Office filed suit to keep the ban from going into effect.
In fact, there are strong legal arguments in Texas that mineral rights owners have the right to drill for and sell those minerals. Denton voters knew that when they cast their ballots.
For now, the courtroom is the right place for the local fracking ban fight. No need for Abbott to save the day.