Ending Forced Annexation in Texas: Introduction

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From Ending Forced Annexation in Texas: Hon. Jess Fields & James Quintero, TPPF, Center for Local Governance (July, 2015)

Introduction

Municipal annexation has long been controversial in Texas, with proponents and opponents differing greatly on how to address such basic matters as property rights and self-determination. While annexation may be the nominal question, the real issue at hand centers around a more fundamental debate on the role of government.

For their part, cities are often focused on the added tax revenue and regulatory control that annexation gains them, but can sometimes underestimate or neglect other considerations, such as capital costs and long-term operations and maintenance expenses associated with providing equivalent services to the annexed area.

Property owners, meanwhile, often resent being annexed against their will. Concerns that their property rights are being infringed upon are not currently addressed by current annexation law and procedure, but continue to be raised. These fundamental questions underlying annexation policy deserve an answer.

Local governments have always been given a certain degree of deference in Texas, because Texans value local decision-making. Indeed, a 1980 study found that Texas law gave its cities the greatest “local discretionary authority” of any state in the nation.1 However, Texas also has a rich history of protecting the rights of its citizens from government intrusion and infringement. The broad discretionary authority exercised by cities can, and does, impinge on the rights of Texans in the area of annexation. This recognition has seen other states move toward reform.

Indeed, in recent years, many states have passed reform of municipal annexation authority. In April 2014, the Tennessee General Assembly passed, and the Governor signed, a bill ending involuntary annexation. North Carolina passed a similar bill in 2012 that “provides affected property owners with notice and multiple opportunities to comment on, and contribute to, the annexation plan.”2 Both require a referendum of the citizens who live in an area proposed for annexation.

In Texas, involuntary annexation is not only legal, but commonly used by cities. Citizens regularly rise up against municipal annexations of their property, but with little recourse available to them, such efforts are usually fruitless. Texas is the largest of a dwindling number of states (including Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, and Nebraska) that allows involuntary annexation. In the vast majority of states, however, annexation requires some kind of input from the area to be annexed—whether by election or petition.3

More than ever before, Texans are wary of having their property rights stripped away. As government at all levels seems increasingly bellicose toward the natural rights that Americans have long held dear, it is the duty of all concerned with maintaining the just and proper role of government to question institutions that threaten individual liberty.

To that end, this study shall consider annexation in Texas, both from a historical and a modern perspective, to shed light on the status of the issue in our state and where it stands in our country. It will consider the arguments of both the proponents and opponents of involuntary annexation, and provide a broader philosophical perspective on the issue.

Finally, we shall conclude with a comprehensive policy proposal for lawmakers that would reform the present annexation law to include the protection of both property owners’ rights while also addressing concerns regarding restrictions of local authority.