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Why Are States Fighting with Their Cities?

This past week, I just finished fighting off a surprise attack in the form of a lawsuit that included an emergency hearing on an application for a temporary restraining order, possible appeal to the court of appeals with an emergency motion to stay the TRO if it was granted. It wasn’t granted.

I thought the lawsuit was brought only by the landowners and their 5 law firms over annexing their property before the law changed on December 1st. But at the last minute, the Texas Attorney General’s office, instead of following established procedure and intervening in the case, sent a bullying letter trying to threaten my city council members and sway the court. After I sent my response letter, I called the AG’s office. I’m still waiting for a call back.

In the midst of the litigation, it was discovered that another city was involved in a similar lawsuit that had been appealed twice and the AG filed a friend of the court brief taking the side of the landowners and against the city. In the past, the AG has stayed out of local fights. What has changed?

I have written previously about this past legislative session and the open hostility towards cities. Revenue cap legislation based on fake math and voodoo economics that didn’t pass; radical annexation legislation that now effectively prevents cities from growing and allows “economic leeches” that don’t pay city taxes but use city services and entertainment venues, and recent changes to municipal jail standards reducing to 12 hours the time for processing certain detainees (so imagine a detainee comes in at 4 pm on Saturday afternoon – he partied early – and he has to be processed by 4 am Sunday morning).

I have heard county judges and commissioners, district attorneys, mayors and city council members bitterly complain at their treatment by the legislature. But what sets this treatment in motion?

Surprisingly, there was a recent blog on my Twitter feed referencing an article from the www.governing.com website entitled, “What do States Have Against Cities, Anyway?”. It cites a recent study of 1,736 pieces of legislation in 13 states over a 120-year period from 1880 to 2000. That’s from President Rutherford B. Hayes’s administration to the end of President Bill Clinton’s.

What they found out is that city leaders have always complained that the Legislature gave them a raw deal. Originally, the reason given was rural vs. urban malapportionment. But after “one man, one vote” that should have ended it. The next cause was large cities within the same state usually dislike each other and don’t cooperate during a legislative session. Fragmentation was another reason when a state has too many large cities that don’t coordinate with each other.

Partisanship was examined but not found as a major cause because city bills lost even if sponsored by a member of the majority party. The authors did admit that might have changed since 2000 with hyper-partisanship. During the last legislative session in Texas, it was reported that the Republican governor would not meet with some mayors and told others that they were collateral damage in his fight with big city Democratic mayors.

Ethnicity played a part but the factor that hurt the most was the sheer size of the urban delegations. When legislators from that same city disagreed with each other, those from the rest of the state dismissed their legislative goals altogether.

President Ronald Reagan once said that “when you can’t make them see the light, make them feel the heat.” How? The county judges, county commissioners, mayors and city councils need to corral their local representatives and senators to get everyone on the same page and drive home the point that this is the way to get more votes and earn reelection, or not. That’s bringing the heat!

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