Advocacy Update: State vs. City

TxA's Senior Advocate, David Lancaster, Hon. AIA, sheds some light on the tug-of-war between state and local power that has arisen this legislative session.

A long-standing political saw seems to be “evolving” in Austin. The old wisdom that the best governing decisions are made closest to home is being challenged with a new twist—that state government protection is needed against local overreach. The apparent “goose v. gander” theoretical inconsistency of applying that same twist to federal-state relations is waved away with: 1) since states had to approve formation of the national government, and created local governments, they rule; and, 2) market stability needs regulatory consistency, which only the state can provide (and the “hodgepodge” of varying local laws and rules only thwarts).

As a result, there have been many bills filed during the 85th Texas Legislature’s regular session to limit when local bond elections could be held, limiting the authority of political subdivisions (i.e., cities, counties, ISDs, etc.) regarding what types of rules or ordinances they may adopt, and putting conditions on the ability to fund budget increases to pay for local governance. Generally speaking, the 25 members who volunteered as bill analysts this session mostly responded, “We’re not convinced the State of Texas knows better than all these political entities what their voters want or how much or well they (should) govern themselves.”

Consequently, the Society has testified against some of these bills—HB 151, for example, which would establish a “once annually” opportunity to vote on bond proposals (during November elections). We opposed this bill for administrative and market imbalance reasons. “Market saturation,” a phenomenon that would create a significantly overheated demand for design and construction materials and labor, thereby all but assuring dramatically higher costs for these products and services, would result. HB 151 supporters said that the sale of bonds wasn’t required immediately after approval, but human nature and experience being what they are, that’s what has happened in the past and what will certainly happen following the next election, too.

We signed up in opposition to the filed version of HB 3418, though we didn’t testify. (Norman Alston, testifying officially on behalf of AIA Dallas, described the profession’s position quite eloquently.) This bill would limit grounds for determining when a structure could be considered historic, and didn’t include a specific allowance for recognizing architectural significance alone (i.e., without requiring a famous person to have lived there, or a specific “recognizable” event to have occurred there). While local communities don’t attach the same importance to various criteria, that’s not a bad thing; it’s more important that each community agree on what’s important to it.

Polling done by the Texas Politics Project a couple of months ago showed a 10-point margin for local control versus state override. Approval for the state to call the shots registered 29% support, where local determination got 39%, and the other 32% either didn’t know or expressed no opinion. Another question during that same polling period was “Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of local government(s)? Combining the two favorable (“very” and “somewhat”) categories into a single number, and doing the same for “unfavorable” responses resulted in 47% “Favorables,” 25% neither favorable or “un,” and a 24% “Unfavorable” totals.

What do you think? We would love to hear from you, which would also allow us to come up with architect-specific numbers. (If enough of you do it, we’ll contrast where the profession sits against numerous categories the Texas Politics Project counted—things like by political party, age, education, geography, etc.)

C’mon, it’ll be fun to see where you stand in comparison with the general population. You know you’re special; that’s why you were drawn to this profession. Weigh in now so we’ll know better how to respond when this comes back up again in two years—and it will be back front-and-center again in 2019—unless the 2018 elections change a whole boatload of players.

by: David Lancaster

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