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“Local” might be the byword for fancy farm-to-market restaurants, but it can be a dirty word at the Texas Capitol.
The state Legislature has become the appeals court for the state’s local governments. Companies and industries snubbed by local laws are increasingly asking state lawmakers to turn things their way — and it’s working.
. . . The next tests will start when the Legislature meets for its next regular session in January. This time, one big fight involves local regulation of drivers for ride-hailing companies like Lyft and Uber. Another is a straight-up attempt by the state to limit local officials’ ability to raise taxes without voter approval.
The ride-hailing issue sets up like the fracking issue did. Austin voters were asked whether the ride-hailing drivers should pass security checks, like cab drivers do. Uber and Lyft said they would leave if voters approved the regulations, irking voters with their methods and the explicit threat. Voters backed the regulations. The companies left. They threatened to leave Houston, too, over regulations there.
Industry allies in the Legislature have promised to file a statewide ride-hailing law that doesn’t hobble the companies.
. . . The property tax proposals are the latest attempts by state officials to control local property tax increases. The state doesn’t have a property tax itself — that’s unconstitutional — but cities, counties and school districts are state inventions and are subject to state regulation and some control. And in this case, some state officials want to give voters more control over property tax increases.
That’s not how the local governments see it, however. They believe, with some evidence, that state officials just want to make it harder to raise the money they contend they need to do what their voters demand of them. Some take it further, saying the need for more tax money is driven, in part, by what the state requires local governments to do.
You might argue that the property tax debate is a case of checks and balances, of one set of elected officials keeping another set of elected officials in line. You might even be right.
Other cases — fracking, smoking, texting while driving, hailing rides, banning plastic supermarket bags among them — are efforts to replace local laws with state ones.