Local control challenged at state and federal level

A power struggle at the Texas Legislature brings to light a growing debate about which jurisdiction should be in charge of certain hot-button issues. Here are five examples of local control being challenged at the state and federal level:

School finance/property tax

City/county: Statewide, the majority of public education is financed by individual property taxes. State aid is given based on property values in each district. Once a district’s property value outpaces student enrollment growth in the public education funding formula, the district falls into recapture status, meaning payments are given back to the state.

State: The state currently pays roughly 43 percent of the total cost of public education. As more districts fall into recapture status, this percentage will shrink with local districts funding more via property taxes. Several bills have been filed to increase the state’s share. A proposal to amend the Texas Constitution, filed by Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, would increase the state’s share to a mandatory 50 percent, costing at least $8 billion in the short term. Without a fix like this one, local districts will have to foot more of the bill.

Federal: The federal government funds roughly 20 percent of the Texas Education Agency’s total budget, with the majority of money going to the National School Lunch Program, Title I Grants and special education grants.

‘Sanctuary cities’/law enforcement

City/county: At this time, individual jurisdictions have the power to decide whether to honor federal ICE detainer requests. The requests are not legally binding, allowing individual jurisdiction decision-making power.

State: Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, proposed SB 4 to make detainer requests legally binding. Without compliance, a jurisdiction would lose funding,face civil penalties and face criminal charges. Gov. Greg Abbott vowed to remove violators from office.

Federal: Immigration policy is the responsibility of the federal government, per the Constitution. That is why, after appropriating roughly $800 million to border security, Texas Republicans said they are sending the tab back to Washington, D.C, demanding the federal government pays for it.

‘Bathroom bill’/discrimination ordinances

City/county: In 2015, Houston became the first Texas city to vote on gender identity discrimination ordinances. Voters overwhelmingly voted against an ordinance that would prevent such discrimination on a variety of bases. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has used this vote as justification for related statewide legislation.

State: Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, authored SB 6, which would prevent individual municipalities or public school districts from setting their own discrimination policies. The bill would regulate these types of policies and bathroom usage based on biological gender.

Federal: In 2016, former President Barack Obama issued an executive order directing public schools to let students use the bathrooms of their choice based on gender identity. President Donald Trump revoked this order in mid-February.


City/county: Jurisdictions can individually set and enforce term limits of elected officials. Many entities do not enforce any limits.

State: Texas representatives, senators and statewide elected officials do not have term limits. Gov. Rick Perry was the longest-serving governor with three terms in office, or 14 years total. There have been several bills filed this session to impose term limits on local jurisdictions, including water boards, school boards and city councils. In addition, Abbott has issued a call for a Convention of States to amend the U.S. Constitution to impose term limits on Congress.

Federal: Members of Congress do not have term limits at this time. The president has a term limit of two terms.

Local control vs. pre-emption

City/county: Many cities have passed local ordinances that threaten state power. For example, Austin has banned plastic bags, voted on regulations that pushed Uber and Lyft out of city limits, and instituted a ban on texting while driving.

State: The Texas government has often challenged or pre-empted these local ordinances, looking to overturn decisions made by municipalities. Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, has said that although states derive their power from the 10th Amendment, cities were created by states and don’t have that same authority.

Federal: Abbott has called for a constitutional convention to reaffirm the rights of states through the 10th Amendment. He has said that federal overreach cannot be fixed in the term of one presidency, no matter the party in power.