Richard Greene

‘Home rule’ facing significant challenge in legislative session

Gov. Greg Abbott helped break ground in 2015 for Facebook’s Fort Worth center, which got local and state incentives.
Gov. Greg Abbott helped break ground in 2015 for Facebook’s Fort Worth center, which got local and state incentives. Star-Telegram

If you have been focused on other things lately, you may have missed the news that the Texas Legislature will convene for its next biennial session on Tuesday.

The last time our state representatives met, they collectively proposed more than 6,200 bills that would either revise or create new laws impacting the lives of Texans.

While just over 1,300 reached the governor’s desk, that’s still a lot of lawmaking, and keeping up with it all for ordinary people is a daunting task indeed.

Among this session’s many initiatives that should concern the residents of the state’s 1,216 cities, 1,031 public school districts and 254 counties are some that will challenge their power and freedom to decide what is best for them, their families, their economic opportunities and the future of their local communities.

Texas has a proud history of granting to its citizens the power of self-government under the concept of “home rule.” The Texas Municipal League provides a simple definition of what that means:

“Home rule is the right of citizens at the grassroots level to manage their own affairs with minimum interference from the state. Home rule assumes that governmental problems should be solved at the lowest possible level, closest to the people.”

While it may be hard to imagine any deterioration in that fundamental right in a state that is the epitome of the basic freedoms upon which our country was founded, there are initiatives that will be put forward in Austin to do just that.

After 10 years of recruiting and significantly funding select legislative candidates throughout the state, Empower Texans, its political action committee and its companion entity Texans for Fiscal Responsibility are optimistic they will succeed in denying certain of those local control powers.

The organization is by any appearance a stalwart of conservatism. That’s the kind of political body I would gladly champion. Much of their agenda is bedrock, solid ideology from the right.

But their aggressive initiatives to erode local control suggest they are more statists than they would appear.

Some of what they want to achieve through their legislative allies that they helped to elect is to deliver over to the state certain controls that have always been in the hands of local citizens.

Couched in appealing rhetoric of lower taxes, spending limits, reduced debt and transparency of local government entities, they appear to be the friend of all right-thinking people.

A closer look at what they want to do reveals a very different picture.

Take the issue of economic development as an example. Empower Texans’ position is that of “free market values.” Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

However, they actually want to stop the use of incentives cities provide to attract local investment by corporate America and jobs for local residents. It’s a long-established practice across the country and already tightly controlled in Texas.

If Texas can’t compete, then our booming economy goes bust.

As it stands now, that power is in the hands of locally elected city councils, school boards and county officials. If voters don’t like what their chosen leaders are doing, they can replace them.

We’ll get deeper into this and other issues of local concern in the days ahead.

In the meantime, Empower Texans is co-sponsoring a panel discussion at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Hilton Fort Worth.

Among the topics to be aired is what is billed as “lawmakers seeking to enact a variety of reforms” of the ability of local entities to be free to govern their own affairs.

Sound interesting? It should.

Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor and served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.