Consent of the governed—it’s the bedrock constitutional value on which the founding documents of both the United States and Texas rest. Texans have the reputation of holding this fundamental principle, and its attendant rights to liberty and private property, dearer than all others in our national union.
But when it comes to the issue of forced municipal annexation, it’s time for Texans to demand their legislators put up or shut up. Are we a state that simply pays lip-service to liberty? Or do we translate our professed values into good public policy that preserves liberty?
Currently, Texas cities can annex people and property with impunity, even without the consent of residents and property owners. Folks who decided to live, work, and raise their families outside of city limits must become city residents, whether they like it or not—all without an election.
What’s worse, cities employ involuntary annexation strategically, to prop up unsustainable fiscal policies instead of pruning and prioritizing city functions. This is not a secret. The Texas Municipal League, a taxpayer-funded lobbying group that represents the interests of member cities, has stated, “Most cities annex for two basic reasons: (1) to control development; and/or (2) to expand the city’s tax base.”
As Rice University urban planning expert Stephen Klineberg said to The Wall Street Journal, “When rich people go out into the suburbs that is where the money is. You can use that tax revenue to develop the urban core.”
This has clear tax implications for newly annexed residents and property owners. For example, the city of San Antonio’s Department of Planning and Community Development estimated in 2015 that under its full purpose annexation proposal, the annual tax bill for a home appraised at $113,800 could increase by more than 22 percent.
Those forcibly annexed are often already happy with the mix of taxes and services they currently receive. Meanwhile, cities underestimate how much it will cost to expand their services to annexed areas, and police departments warn that they will not be able to easily extend coverage to newly annexed areas. Moreover, already accumulated debts become the responsibility of those involuntarily annexed. This translates to higher taxes for reduced services—a bad deal for taxpayers.
Let’s put all this together. Right now—despite our dearly held values of government by consent of the governed—Texans who are involuntarily annexed have a new government forced upon them by city officials they didn’t elect, must pay off debt they didn’t run up, all to finance services they don’t want. As former Senator Phil Gramm stated in 2015, this is “the opposite of what Texas is about.”
Over the last few months, Texans from all across the state traveled to Austin to ask the 85th Texas Legislature to protect their property rights and end forced annexation in Texas. By the end, most had coalesced around Senate Bill 715, which would have given residents and property owners an opportunity to vote on a proposed annexation.
Passing this bill should have been a slam-dunk, especially given the state’s attitude toward liberty and private property. But in spite of the best efforts of liberty-minded legislators and activists, entrenched special interests managed to manipulate the process to kill the bill at the last minute.
But Texans should not be deterred. There may be another opportunity to right this terrible wrong soon, and if the opportunity arises, you can bet that there’ll be plenty of Texans there to insist that it’s time to end forced annexation.
Bryan Mathew is an analyst with Think Local Liberty, a project of the Texas Public Policy Foundation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org