Thursday, December 8, 2016

Texas Senate moves Local Government Accountability forward


"And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account."
Hebrews 4:13

[Author's Note: Hat tip to TPPF; we'll include their statements below.]

Local government debt, involuntary annexation, and and nanny state ordinances share the common characteristic that they're power grabs by local governmental entities. The Texas Senate's committee on Intergovernmental Relations recently released an interim report that proposes remedies for each.  Our only modest quibble is that they didn't explicitly discuss the Uber/Lyft issue, but in fairness to the committee that issue didn't emerge until fairly late in the process.

Committee report recommendations:
  • The legislature should consider providing consistency and eliminating the possibility of variances by strengthening the uniformity in ordinance procedures and standards.
  • The legislature should improve transparency and find a more appropriate balance between drafting ordinances and providing ordinance information to voters by supporting reforms that provide increased transparency through best practices in Texas statutes that provide a common-sense standard in regard to the process, form, and model language.
  • The legislature should weigh-in and afford, at a minimum, critical criteria to ensure that ballot language is not misleading by codifying the recent Texas Supreme Court decision that establishes the "definiteness and certainty" standard in the wording of the ordinances.
  • The legislature should take steps to ensure that when local jurisdictions are found by a court of law to have purposely included misleading chief features of an ordinance, measured through their word choice, that safeguards are provided in statutes to eliminate the burden on taxpayers challenging propositions that lack definiteness and certainty.
  • The legislature should provide a better balance in election contests so as to encourage greater transparency and compliance with state law in ordinance development, drafting, and balloting.
  • The legislature should find a better balance in election contests so as to encourage greater citizen participation, while safeguarding the integrity of ordinance development, drafting, and balloting.
  • The legislature should strengthen the delicate balance between cities wishing to expand their jurisdiction and safeguarding private property rights by increasing transparency in the annexation process through greater notice requirements for impacted stakeholders.
  • In order to improve the annexation process and provide greater transparency and informed consent to those impacted, the legislature should consider updating the annexation process to provide guidance regarding parcels of land subject to a 3 year annexation plan.
  • The legislature should strengthen the annexation process by encouraging greater citizen participation from those impacted by a proposed annexation plan.
  • The legislature should ensure uniform structure and procedures that eliminate unnecessary and burdensome administrative requirements that impeded citizen interaction in locally-driven petitions.
  • The legislature should build-in better statutory safeguards to facilitate greater citizen compliance with administrative petition requirements.
  • In order to enhance greater citizen participation and increase uniformity, the legislature should establish uniform thresholds for citizen petitions.
  • The legislature should consider providing basic essential information that will inform voters of the potential impact of the issuance of new financial obligations.
    • Author's Note: "new financial obligations" = bonds.
  • The legislature should consider the different possibilities of informing potential voters of the chief measures found in aggregate-item elections.
  • The term of new bond debt should not exceed the life of the capital improvements financed by bond proceeds; and unspent bond proceeds should not be used for projects other than those approved by voters at the ballot box.
    • eg. Using bonds to purchase iPads.
Read the whole report here.

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TPPF statement on the annexation component:
“It’s time for the Texas Legislature to right a terrible wrong in our state by ending involuntary annexation,” said Quintero. “Under the current setup, cities can annex Texans living on the outskirts without their permission, letting officials force their taxes, debts, and regulatory schemes onto people who were never asked. That goes against everything that Texas stands for. Changes, like those put forward in the Texas Senate’s new report, are sorely needed to protect private property rights and allow Texans to participate in the democratic process.”
TPPF statement on the local debt component:
“Texas’ local governments are awash in a sea of red ink,” said Quintero. “The latest data suggests that local debt totals more than $338 billion, or roughly $12,300 owed for every man, woman, and child in the state. That’s a stunning level of debt. While there are no silver bullets to solve Texas’ massive local debt problem, there are steps that can be taken to step back from the brink, like those put forward in the Texas Senate’s new interim report on local governments. One of the most important is to better inform Texas voters on the impact of their decisions at the ballot box. Every time a Texan steps in the voting booth, he or she should know, at least, the total cost of the proposed bond (principal and interest) and how its passage would affect their taxes. Making sure that every Texan has that information at their fingertips would go a long way toward improving the current system.”
TPPF statement on the Nanny state component:
“Transparency and accountability are sorely lacking in today’s local policymaking process,” said Quintero. “Around the state, examples abound of local officials misleading, confusing, or providing insufficient information to their constituents on ballot propositions and local ordinances. This is a concerning trend, rightly identified by the Texas Senate’s new report, that should be swiftly dealt with in the next legislative session.”

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