Richard Greene

Hometown control, freedom under attack in Texas Legislature

Visitors and guests line up in the rotunda of the Texas State Capitol to enter the House Chamber for the beginning of the 86th Texas Legislative session, Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019, in Austin.
Visitors and guests line up in the rotunda of the Texas State Capitol to enter the House Chamber for the beginning of the 86th Texas Legislative session, Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019, in Austin. AP

It’s going to be real interesting to see how citizens across Texas react when they come to realize that the state has taken over control of their cities.

At first it may seem OK since our legislators have mastered the practice of making us think they are saving us from the actions of the men and women we have chosen to manage our public affairs.

Everyone likes the sound of property tax reform and many believe it will lead to the lowering of our annual bill from the county tax assessor.

When reality sets in with the result of an arbitrary cap being placed on revenues that cities and school districts need to support our daily lives and educate our children, it will be too late to restore the quality of life we once enjoyed.

Not only will our property tax bill have increased again, now we will be faced with questions of what we would be willing to give up, since local governments won’t have the resources to do what we’ve said over and over we want.

So while we wait until that outcome sets in, we can temporarily celebrate with the men and women we sent to the state Capitol who come home and brag about how they reined in the mythical abuses of mayors, city council and school board members.

Other than the hot topic of so-called tax reform, there’s a number of other things that most won’t even know about until their lives are impacted by the actions of legislators who have taken power away from we the people.

If what legislators are doing seems OK with you, may I suggest you think again? Apply this simple test: If you want something to happen in your community or if you want to stop something from happening, what seems to be the most productive way for you to let the governing body know what you want?

You have a choice of trying to convince the majority of your city council or school board — something like five or seven of its members, all of them residing in your home town — or needing to influence more than 75 lawmakers in the state House of Representatives plus another 16 in the Senate — all of them spread across the vast expanse of Texas — and the governor to agree with you.

And there’s this reality: Only two of those in the legislature are afraid of your power to vote them out of office. So good luck with that.

The executive director of the Texas Municipal League, working to protect the rights of home rule cities, says local control in this session is under attack like never before. He explains, “I call it the Goldilocks form of government. The feds are big and bad, the cities are small and bad, but somehow states get it just right.”

It gets worse. Legislators are considering shutting down that organization, along with legislative liaisons that local governing bodies employ to protect individual rights to develop the communities where they live the way they want.

They are saying, in effect, that they do not wish to be bothered by the representatives of cities and school boards paid to protect those rights.

If that happens, then we will have to depend on the efforts of city council and school board members to find the time to constantly walk the hallways of the Capitol to achieve the outcomes we need.

Since that’s not going to happen, maybe you can find the time to make a call to your representative in Austin and tell him or her to cease their support for the usurpation of your personal liberty.

Do it now, as the session is ending in a few more days. Tell them you don’t intend to lose control of your hometown.

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