This Op-Ed originally appeared in the San Antonio Express-News on July 21, 2017
Forced annexation by cities — without a vote by the impacted property owners — is piracy by government, a tyranny of taxation without representation that would have made old King George proud.
Texas is still the envy of the nation. With our strong economy, overall lower costs of living and high quality of life, the Lone Star State remains the best place to raise a family, build a business and create greater opportunity for all.
But liberty in Texas should not end at any city limits sign.
While we rightly rail against overreach by the federal government, local municipalities are increasingly infringing on private property rights.
Involuntary annexation is a practice that allows Texas municipalities to force property owners just outside of the city limits to become residents — whether they like it or not.
The city can then impose new regulations and, worse, higher taxes. Those forcibly annexed property owners are made responsible for the city’s already accumulated debt without having approved its issuance.
This is legal. But very un-Texan.
State law currently allows a city to annex up to 10 percent of its incorporated land from its extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) every year. Advance notice must be provided to residents and businesses in the affected area, but consent is not needed.
And though public hearings are sometimes hosted, forced annexation by cities provides no actionable outlet for those property owners to approve or disapprove by vote or petition, creating taxation without representation.
Texas is one of a dwindling few states that still allow involuntary annexation without election or petition.
Cities favor annexation as a means to quickly increase their tax base and generate additional revenue.
Alternately, limited-purpose annexations allow a city to annex an area to expand hyper-regulations to its ETJ — through sometimes onerous planning, zoning, and health and safety ordinances — without imposing taxes but also without providing municipal services such as police protection.
Property owners who prefer to live outside the city limits have already voted with their feet. That right can then be denied to them under the current flawed law.
Testimony offered during the regular legislative session from residents in the San Antonio ETJ was disturbing. One small community of retirees fears substantial increases in taxes without any appreciable increase or improvement in services, creating a financial hardship for those who chose to live their retirement years outside of the city.
To now use protection of our military installations as an argument against much-needed annexation reforms, as some opponents of reforms are doing, is inexcusable. The men and women in uniform who have trained and served on these bases have fought to protect our rights to liberty, some paying the ultimate price. Had sensible land-use protections for areas around our critical military bases been a priority, the city of San Antonio could have acted years ago.
It’s not just an issue in the Alamo City.
Residents from across the state feel abused by the annexation process and voiced their concerns to legislators this past session. But they were outshouted by those representing the interests of the big cities.
I urge the Texas Legislature to listen again.
If cities want to expand their tax base, they can attract new businesses and residents by following the state’s lead: Create a welcoming economic environment by lowering taxes, reducing burdensome regulations and speeding up permitting.
And if a municipality truly wants to improve services to its ETJ, it should ask the residents of that neighborhood or community first.
During the special session this summer, I am directing the Legislature to enact critical reforms to restrict local government from threatening private property rights.
I applaud Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, and Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, for authoring legislation reforming the authority of municipalities to annex territory, exert control over territory or regulate the use of annexed or ETJ land.
In Texas, of all places, property rights matter.