As lawmakers begin a new session, Texas mayors want to maintain control of local issues
By Samantha Aguilar, The Texas Tribune
“As lawmakers begin a new session, Texas mayors want to maintain control of local issues” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
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Preserving local control will be a central issue this legislative session, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said at a conference Friday along with eight other members of the Texas’ Big City Mayors coalition.
Mayors of the state’s most populous cities will “undoubtedly” oppose any upcoming legislation that would erode local authority, Nirenberg said.
“As mayors with the responsibility of managing services and operations that largely impact the daily lives of our residents, we believe we are best positioned to determine local policies,” he said.
San Antonio is the second-most populous city in Texas, with 1.4 million residents, and the seventh-most populous city in the nation. The bipartisan coalition is made up of 18 mayors who, combined, represent nearly one-third of the state’s population.
“All of us know what’s going on in our communities,” Arlington Mayor Jim Ross said.
Mayor George Fuller of McKinney, a city of just over 200,000 people north of Dallas, said there has been a “degradation” of the relationship between the state and cities in recent legislative sessions.
“We’ve seen nothing short of an assault on local control,” Fuller said. “We need to right that ship. We at the local level are your partners in the state. We are boots on the ground.”
The group didn’t specify the topics on which state versus local control has become an issue, but Fuller called for better communication and respect for one another this session.
This is chief among several major issues that the group says should be prioritized during this year’s legislative session, which began Tuesday.
Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson said the state needs to support competitive tools in economic development because city leaders are the ones to recruit companies.
“We’ve got to have tools like 380 and 381 agreements in order to keep competitive with other cities and other states,” Nelson said. Chapters 380 and 381 of the Local Government Code authorize municipalities to offer incentives to developers.
Nelson pointed to development in Amarillo, a city of 200,000 people, that is bringing in more than 4,000 new jobs in the next two years with manufacturing projects, including one that will assist the nation in developing computer chips — needed for smartphones and medical devices.
Many of the mayors emphasized the importance of a state corporate tax break program in bringing both jobs and development to their cities.
Chapter 313, the state’s program that incentivized companies like Tesla and Amazon to manufacture in Texas, expired at the end of 2022. House Speaker Dade Phelan called the decision “a little short-sighted” and said this session lawmakers can bring in a new program to stay competitive with other states.
Texas corporate tax break programs are another reason the state must adequately fund education from early childhood development to higher education, said Mayor John Muns of Plano, a city of almost 300,000 people in North Texas.
“Those incentives always include companies that want an educated workforce,” Muns said. “If we don’t have those, I guarantee you those companies will move somewhere else.”
Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker said expanding broadband infrastructure is one of the biggest priorities for her city.
Parker said 60,000 Fort Worth residents do not have internet access in their homes — an issue the city tried to start mending itself with a free community Wi-Fi program in five neighborhoods.
She said the need for widespread internet access became “very evident during COVID, especially for our students trying to operate from home in really tough circumstances.”
But according to the U.S. Census Bureau, of the 2.8 million Texas residents without broadband access, those in rural areas are disproportionately affected.
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar released an updated version Thursday of the state’s broadband development map to show areas lacking reliable, high-speed internet access. This map will be used to allocate $42 billion in federal funding to establish high-speed internet in underserved areas.
Violence prevention is more important than ever for mayors after the May 24 elementary school shooting in Uvalde that killed 19 children and two adults — the third-deadliest school shooting in the nation.
Ross said as mayor of Arlington, a city of 390,000, he worries that the next mass shooting could happen in his city. He called on the legislature to enact gun control measures and provide funding for mental health services.
“I sit in fear every single day waiting for the next shoe to drop on when we are going to experience a Las Vegas type of critical incident where there is a mass shooting,” Ross said.
“Enough is enough is enough. We need to not be partisan on this and start protecting our citizens.”
Phelan told reporters Thursday that although there’s a bill filed this session to raise the minimum age to buy an assault weapon, he has spoken candidly to the families of Uvalde victims about his doubts about the House’s ability to pass such a bill.
Disclosure: The Texas comptroller of public accounts has been financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/01/13/texas-mayors-local-control-legislature/.
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