3.6.23 – Forbes – Patrick Gleason Contributor
I cover the intersection of state & federal policy and politics.
Texas, when it comes to governance, outperforms most states across a number of key metrics. Today, for example, Texas is home to the nation’s sixth lowest average tax burden and is one of only eight states that funds government without an income tax.
Texas lawmakers have kept the rise in state spending for most of the past decade below the rate of population growth and inflation. This spending restraint has helped Texas maintain one of the lowest average tax burdens in the country.
While Texas legislators and Governor Greg Abbott (R) have kept spending in check and taxes relatively low, many local governments across the Lone Star State have not exercised the same spending restraint. In fact, critics say officials in many localities have grown local government budgets at an unsustainable clip, which is a trend that preceded the pandemic and has contributed to Texas becoming home to the nation’s sixth highest property tax burden when looking at how much is paid relative to housing value.Property taxes paid as a percentage of owner-occupied housing value
In response, Governor Abbott and state legislators are advancing reforms aimed at reining in what many state legislators and others view as out-of-control local governments. Texas lawmakers have introduced legislation this year to prohibit local governments from hiring contract lobbyists, along with a bill to cap the growth of local government spending.
Locally-imposed regulations, however, can be just as costly, if not more so for some businesses, than the high tax burdens necessitated by local government spending levels. Not only do local regulations impose costs on businesses that reduce their job-creating and sustaining capacity, a patchwork of variable regulations across hundreds of local jurisdictions adds compliance costs that make Texas a more difficult, more costly, and less attractive place to do business and invest, counteracting the work state lawmakers have done over many years to maintain a hospitable tax and regulatory climate.
“There are dozens of reasons why Texas is the best state in the country for business, but its convoluted, unpredictable, and inconsistent patchwork regulatory system is not one of them,” said Jame Quintero, policy director at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. “It is unreasonable to expect business owners to know every detail of every rule and regulation across thousands of jurisdictions.”
Seeking to address this problem, Representative Dustin Burrows (R), chairman of the House Calendars Committee, has introduced the Texas Regulatory Consistency Act as House Bill 2127, legislation that would prevent local governments from regulating any product, activity, or industry in a manner that exceeds or conflicts with state law. Those looking out for small business interests in the Texas capitol say enactment of Representative Burrows’ bill would be “a victory for Main Street.”
“The patchwork of regulations that currently exist in Texas makes it more difficult for a business to operate and create jobs,” said Annie Spilman, Texas director for the National Federation of Independent Businesses, which represents small businesses in the Texas Legislature. “The world’s ninth-largest economy shouldn’t be subjected to the whims of rogue regulators – who often pass onerous mandates in the dead of night.”
“The compliance cost alone kills jobs, increases prices, and discourages innovation and growth,” Quintero added. “The Texas Regulatory Consistency Act brings some much-needed common sense to the system, unifying the rules for conducting business in a predictable, reliable, and efficient way to promote compliance. Texas is already ahead of the pack and this critical reform from Senator Brandon Creighton and Representative Dustin Burrows will put our state even further in front.”
State lawmakers have spent time and energy in recent years dealing with legislation prohibiting local governments from regulating and taxing certain goods and services. Yet there is no end to the potential targets for local regulation. Enactment of Representative Burrows’ bill would make it so state lawmakers don’t have to come back and pass legislation every time a new regulatory fad catches on with local officials.
In Ohio earlier this year, for example, state legislators failed to override a gubernatorial veto of preemption legislation that would’ve prevented cities and towns from banning flavored vape products. Had a law like what Representative Burrows is proposing been on the books in Ohio, a local flavor ban like the one recently imposed in Columbus, which the vetoed preemption legislation sought to block, would not have been permitted.
By implementing the reform Representative Burrows has proposed, lawmakers don’t need to approve a series of state preemption laws, nor do they need to get bogged down in debates over soda consumption, vaping, plastic bags, styrofoams containers, home sharing, ride sharing, car sharing, or the next thing to be targeted by local politicians. This time-saving aspect is another reason why, even after its enactment in Texas, should that occur, Representative Burrows’ proposed reform is likely to be introduced in other state capitals in the future.