Texans should have the freedom to choose where they live in our great state. Unfortunately, due to abusive exercises of annexation powers by some cities, many do not. Now is the time to change this.
Governor Abbott recently called the Legislature back for a special session to address some of his priorities. Fortunately, one of these is reforming municipal annexation powers.
Under current law, many Texas cities, including Ellis County cities such as Waxahachie and Midlothian, have the power to take land outside their borders without any consent from those living there. So, if you, like me, decide to live in the county and outside city limits, your choice may be stripped away if a neighboring city chooses to annex your property. This increases your taxes, regulates your activity, and requires you to pay off city debt you didn’t accrue.
This is regularly done over the powerless voices of those being annexed, including senior citizens on fixed incomes who simply can’t afford the increases and deliberately chose to live in an unincorporated area. Additionally, if you want to do something as simple as add a fence or install a water heater you may now face burdensome requirements from a city council you didn’t elect, and if you run a home business, you may be confronted with the reality that you can never expand.
Cities should be free to advance their legitimate goals of raising revenue and planning growth, even through annexation. However, to do so at the discretion only of those who will benefit (current city residents and politicians) while refusing representation from those who may be adversely impacted is undemocratic and antithetical to the principles of liberty we Texans cherish.
It was a foundational principle of these United States that government action not sanctioned by those being governed or their representatives constitutes an overreach and should be opposed. Our Founders enshrined this in the Declaration of Independence, noting that governments derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
It’s hard to believe in 2017 we must still resist a form of “taxation without representation.”
Cities claim that newly annexed residents will receive services in exchange for their increase in taxes, regulation, and debt. This is often not true in any meaningful way, as new city services just replace similar county services residents already enjoyed. Even if true, it is still morally wrong since those affected weren’t represented in the decision. If an annexation is a good deal for all involved, then cities should have no problem persuading people to support it voluntarily.
Annexation powers have been modified slightly over the years to restrict rates of expansion and to define processes cities must follow, but these are not sufficient. The Legislature should require a passing vote of those in a proposed annexation area before any annexation.
Ideally, this should be required whether a city is in a large county or a smaller one. Legislation which would have done that but was successfully filibustered in regular session (SB 715) was amended to only apply to cities in counties with populations over 500,000. While this would certainly be a major improvement, private property rights and freedom to choose where to live should eventually be protected statewide.
All Texans, whether living inside or outside city limits, should urge their legislators to do what is right and prohibit involuntary annexations. If your legislator claims to support private property rights, there is no simpler way to demonstrate that commitment than by ending this practice. Governor Abbott recently said, “Cities that annex property without the approval from those affected is piracy by the government and it must end.”
He is right.
Brian Harrison has a degree in Economics from Texas A&M University and is a small business owner living in Ellis County with his wife and two young boys. He is a former aide to Vice President Cheney in the White House and has held multiple positions in the federal government.