Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Unpacking the "War on Cities" Talking Point


"Do not rob the poor because he is poor,
Nor oppress the afflicted at the gate;"
Proverbs 22:22

Since Governor Abbott called the special session, we've noticed a recurring talking point.

From Mayor Adler:
“I admit to being a little dumbfounded when I heard what sounded to me like a call for a war against cities; a fight against individual liberties exposed at the ballot box,” Adler said. “Instead of looking at a future … the governor’s special call looks to the past.”
From Greg Casar:
"So many of the things listed here are attacks on Austin, not just in the traditional Austin-bashing sense, but on cities generally because we pose a threat in the long term,"
From the Texas Municipal League:
“The list of proposed topics for a special session represents an all-out assault on the ability of Texas voters to decide what’s best for their communities and their neighborhoods.
We've also heard similar rhetoric from local officials in (at least) Houston and Dallas.

This is worth considering in full, because the argument contains a kernel of truth wrapped in hysterical misdirection.  The short version is that these politicians (and their taxpayer funded lobbyists) have everything backwards.  While nobody denies the potential long term political implications of the special session agenda, that's a secondary concern compared to the fact that municpal governments across this state have been abusing their citizens can the Texas legislature has jurisdiction to reign them in.

Consider the following:

These two are worth considering on their own, because they're obvious macroeconomic storms gathering on the medium term horizon.  Left unchecked, local government debt and the property tax system will strangle the state's economy.  Does anyone (Note: Who isn't paid to say otherwise) seriously think reigning in these practices is a bad thing?!?

The abuses continue:
  • In Austin, the permitting process for residential construction is so complicated and convoluted that council created a pay to play fast lane for the big developers...which they subsequently loaded up with a new round of complicated conditions.
  • Even in allegedly conservative cities like Frisco and Plano, property tax collections have been growing faster than the ability of homeowners to pay them.
  • Also in Austin, while issues like the tree ordinance and short term rentals (note: that's going to be a germane amendment on some bill during the special) get the most attention, the anti-property rights orientation of the municipal government has become so pervasive that the code department is performing SWAT-team raids.
Again...does anyone seriously think reigning in these practices is a bad thing?!?

But you want to talk politics?!?  Fine, let's talk politics.  We've been saying since 2013 that, while punks like Battleground Texas would never turn Texas blue, the unchecked growth of government at the local level is the one thing that could swing the state over the long run.

While a certain amount of boutique progressivism has crept in over the past decade, historically the backbone of the left-wing coalition has been people who collect checks from the government (ie. bureaucrats, lobbyists, and welfare recipients).  Naturally, it follows that if there are fewer people collecting checks from the government, there will be fewer constituencies for left wing policies.  There's a reason why we compared Governor Abbott's special session agenda to Scott Walker's in Wisconsin.

Put differently: This website is primarily interested in lowering our personal cost of living, but if we can simultaneously make it easier to win elections 10 years down the line, that's certainly a bonus we'll take.

Bottom Line: It's time to reign in abusive municipal governments for the sake of reigning in abusive municipal governments; if doing so also makes it easier to win elections in a decade, so much the better.

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