There are only two major levels of government in our country: federal and state. Everything else is a subdivision of state government.
Texas is a huge state as we all know. Many major state services, such as the criminal court system, are delivered at the county level. There are 254 counties in Texas. Many states only have a handful of counties, so you can see how dealing with 254 entities is not an easy task.
There are about 800+ city governments in Texas. I’ll update this blog with the exact number when I return from vacation. New cities and towns are General Law entities that operate under a state charter that pretty much says they can’t do anything unless the state law specifically says they can.
When they get to 5,000 in population a city can hold an election and become a Home Rule city. That pretty much means they can do just about anything they want to unless state law specifically says they can’t. Their ability to control their destiny greatly increases.
Then there are hundreds of school districts to carry out a primary state function – education.
To make things very complicated, there are also hundreds of special districts in Texas. They are creations of the state often initiated by developers, the county or the city themselves. I’ll provide a list for your reference next week. It is a long list and somewhat mind boggling.
You can imagine how complex it is for the state to carry out their primary duties through so many subdivisions it has created. That is why 50 years ago they created Regional Planning Agencies. There are 24 of them. NCTCOG was the first. There are very few federal and state dollars for transportation, environmental and many major programs that have regional implications that don’t flow through NCTCOG for the 16 countries in this region.
I want to get this introduction blogged because future blogs will build on this knowledge. If there is one phrase that explains all of these layers of government in Texas, it would be Local Control. Also, Self Governance is a related foundational concept.
Why is this understanding so critical? Because there has always been a battle between the federal and state control. If you were the 800-pound gorilla, your tendency might likely to be to mandate services to the state and then mandate they pay for it. That strategy increased during President Reagan’s term.
And now the movement that has always been there between Texas and its several thousand subdivisions is to take away the cherished and critically important Local Control and replace it with state control is ramping up like an athlete in steroids.
And the ultimate injustice – 1) mandate services, 2) allow local government to add services and service levels they prefer AND 3) limit the ability to pay for those services.
It’s absolutely crazy. More to come …