Government of Texas
The government of Texas consists of a unitary democratic state government that uses the Dillon Rule, as well as governments at the county and municipal levels. Austin is the capital of Texas. The State Capitol resembles the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., but is faced in Texas pink granite and is topped by a statue of the "Goddess of Liberty" holding aloft a five-point Texas star. The capitol is also notable for purposely being built seven feet taller than the U.S. national capitol.1
Republican Rick Perry has served as Governor of Texas since December 2000, when George W. Bush vacated the office to assume the Presidency. Two Republicans represent Texas in the U.S. Senate: John Cornyn (since 2002) and Ted Cruz (since 2013). Texas has 36 representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives: 24 Republicans and 12 Democrats.
The current Texas Constitution was adopted in 1876. As with many state constitutions, it explicitly provides for the separation of powers and incorporates its bill of rights directly into the text of the constitution (as Article I). The bill of rights is considerably lengthier and more detailed than the federal Bill of Rights, and includes some provisions unique to Texas.
The Constitution of Texas is the foremost source of state law. Legislation is enacted by the Texas Legislature, published in the General and Special Laws of the State of Texas, and codified. State agencies published regulations in the Texas Register, which are in turn codified in the Texas Administrative Code. The Texas legal system is based on common law, which is interpreted by case law through the decisions of the Texas Supreme Court, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, and the Texas Courts of Appeals, which are published in the Texas Cases and South Western Reporter. Counties and municipal governments may also promulgate local ordinances.
The Texas Legislature is bicameral. The House of Representatives has 150 members, while the Senate has 31. The Speaker of the House presides over the House, and the Lieutenant Governor presides over the Senate. The Legislature meets in regular session only once every two years. The Legislature cannot call itself into special session; only the governor may call a special session, and may call as many sessions as often as wanted.
Texas has a plural executive branch system which limits the power of the Governor. Except for the Secretary of State, all executive officers are elected independently making them directly answerable to the public not the Governor.2
The executive branch consists of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Comptroller of Public Accounts, Land Commissioner, Attorney General, Agriculture Commissioner, the three-member Texas Railroad Commission, the State Board of Education, and the Secretary of State. The comptroller decides if expected state income is sufficient to cover the proposed state budget. There are also many state agencies and numerous boards and commissions. Partly because of many elected officials, the governor's powers are quite limited in comparison to other state governors or the U.S. President. In popular lore and belief the lieutenant governor, who heads the Senate and appoints its committees, has more power than the governor. The governor commands the state militia and can veto bills passed by the Legislature and call special sessions of the Legislature (this power is exclusive to the governor and can be exercised as often as desired). The governor also appoints members of various executive boards and fills judicial vacancies between elections.
All members of the executive branch are elected statewide except for the Secretary of State (appointed) and the State Board of Education (each of its 15 members are elected from single-member districts). Past executive branches have been split between parties. When Republican President George W. Bush served as Texas's governor, the state's Lieutenant Governor, Bob Bullock, was a Democrat. However, since 1994 the Republican Party has won all statewide elections, and also holds a majority of the seats on the State Board of Education.
The Texas Ranger Division of the Texas Department of Public Safety is a law enforcement agency with statewide jurisdiction. Over the years, the Texas Rangers have investigated crimes ranging from murder to political corruption. They have acted as riot police and as detectives, protected the Texas governor, tracked down fugitives, and functioned as a paramilitary force both for the republic and the state.
Most state agencies are headquartered in Austin. Notable exceptions are the Texas A&M Forest Service and the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (which are headquartered in College Station)34 and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (headquartered in both Austin and Huntsville, the latter being the home of the state's execution chamber).
Together the Texas Army and Air National Guards and the Texas State Guard form the Texas Military Forces, under the day-to-day control of the Adjutant General of Texas, but ultimately responsible to the Governor of Texas.
The judicial system of Texas has a reputation as one of the most complex in the United States,5 with many layers and many overlapping jurisdictions.6 Texas has two courts of last resort: the Texas Supreme Court, which hears civil cases, and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Except in the case of some municipal benches, partisan elections choose all of the judges at all levels of the judiciary; the governor fills vacancies by appointment.
All members of the Texas Supreme Court and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals are elected statewide; since 1997, all 18 seats (nine on each court) have been held by the Republican Party.
Texas has a total of 254 counties, by far the largest number of counties of any state.
Each county is run by a five-member Commissioners' Court consisting of four commissioners elected from single-member districts (called commissioner precincts) and a county judge elected at-large. The county judge does not have authority to veto a decision of the commissioners court; the judge votes along with the commissioners (being the tie-breaker in close calls). In smaller counties, the county judge actually does perform judicial duties, but in larger counties the judge's role is limited to serving on the commissioners court and certifying elections. Certain officials, such as the sheriff and tax collector, are elected separately by the voters, but the commissioners court determines their office budgets, and sets overall county policy. All county elections are partisan, and commissioner precincts are redistricted after each ten year Census both to equalize the voting power in each and in consideration of the political party preferences of the voters in each.
Counties also have much less legal power than home rule municipalities. They cannot pass ordinances (local laws with penalties for violations) like cities can. Counties in Texas do not have zoning power (except for limited instances around some reservoirs, military establishments, historic sites and airports, and in large counties over "communication facility structures": visible antennas). However, counties can collect a small portion of property tax and spend it to provide residents with needed services or to employ the power of eminent domain. Counties also have the power to regulate outdoor lighting near observatories and military bases. Counties do not have "home rule" authority; whatever powers they enjoy are specifically granted by the State (as an example, most counties have no authority to sanction property owners whose lands fill with weeds and trash).
Unlike other states, Texas does not allow for consolidated city-county governments. Cities and counties (as well as other political entities) are permitted to enter "interlocal agreements" to share services (for instance, a city and a school district may enter into agreements with the county whereby the county bills for and collects property taxes for the city and school district; thus, only one tax bill is sent instead of three). Texas does allow municipalities to merge, but populous Harris County, Texas consolidating with its primary city, Houston, Texas, to form the nation's second largest city (after New York City) is not a prospect under current law.
Texas does not have townships; areas within a county are either incorporated or unincorporated. Incorporated areas are part of a city, though the city may contract with the county for needed services. Unincorporated areas are not part of a city; in these areas the county has authority for law enforcement and road maintenance.
Cities are classified as either "general law" or "home rule". A city may elect home rule status (i.e., draft an independent city charter) once it exceeds 5,000 population and the voters agree to home rule. Otherwise, it is classified as general law and has very limited powers. One example of the difference in the two structures regards annexation. General law cities cannot annex adjacent unincorporated areas without the property owner's consent; home rule cities may annex without consent but must provide essential services within a specified period of time (generally within three years) or the property owner may file suit to be disannexed and reimbursed. Once a city adopts home rule it may continue to keep this status even if the population later falls below 5,000.
Larger cities (those exceeding 225,000) have a unique authority: that of "limited annexation", whereby an adjoining area may be annexed for purposes of imposing city ordinances related to safety and building codes. The residents can vote for mayor and council races but cannot vote in bond elections (and, consequently, the city cannot directly collect city sales tax from businesses or city property tax from owners).
However, the City of Houston has exploited a glitch7 in the state law that allows it to share in sales tax revenues along with special districts (municipal utility districts, for instance) that cross an area "annexed for limited purposes."8 This has led to a spiderwebbing known as limited purpose or special purpose annexations that consist of mostly commercial properties facing major streets. These extend through otherwise unincorporated areas. It has also led to conflicts between city and county officials over the provision of services to these areas not included in the agreements.
The purpose of limited annexation is to allow the city to control development in an area that it eventually will fully annex; it is meant to do so within three years (though it can arrange "non-annexation agreements" with local property owners), and those agreements with municipal utility districts also cloud the picture. During each of the three years, the city is to develop land use planning for the area(zoning, for example), identify needed capital improvements and ongoing projects, and identify the financing for such as well as to provide essential municipal services.9
Municipal elections in Texas are nonpartisan in the sense that candidates do not appear on the ballot on party lines, and do not run as party tickets. However, a candidate's party affiliation is usually known or can be discerned with minimal effort (as the candidate most likely has supported other candidates on partisan tickets). In some instances, an informal citizen's group will support a slate of candidates that it desires to see elected (often in opposition to an incumbent group with which it disagreed on an issue). However, each candidate must be voted on individually.
In addition to cities and counties, Texas has numerous special districts. The most common is the independent school district, which (with one exception) has a board of trustees that is independent of any other governing authority. School district boundaries are not generally aligned with city or county boundaries; it is common for a school district to cover one or more counties or for a large city to be served by several school districts.
Other special districts include Groundwater Conservation Districts (regulatory agencies), river authorities, water supply districts (for irrigation or municipal supply), public hospitals, road districts and community colleges.
As with municipal elections in Texas, board members or trustees are elected on a nonpartisan basis or may be appointed.
The Texas Education Agency governs public education in Texas.
Until 2010, Texas had weathered the Great Recession fairly well, buffered by its vast oil and gas industries. It avoided the housing industry meltdown and its unemployment rate continues to be below the national level. It benefited from having a two-year budget cycle, allowing officials create budget plans with more time to focus on issues of importance. However, Texas was impacted by the economic downturn just like many other states, and by 2011 was suffering from tens of billions of dollars in budget deficits. In order to deal with this deficit, a supermajority of Republicans led to a massive cost cutting spree. 10 In order to draw new businesses to the state, Texas has developed a program of tax incentives to corporations willing to move there.11 These efforts, along with Texas focusing on developing their natural energy resources, has led to a surplus as Texas begins its next two year budget cycle. 1213
- Major revenue sources
For FY 2011, the top Texas revenue sources by category were approximately:14 Federal Income: $42,159,665,863.56 Sales Tax: $21,523,984,733.17 Investments: $10,406,151,499.48 Other Revenue: $8,569,805,443.66 Licenses, Fees, Fines and Penalties: $7,741,880,095.57
Texas is a net payer of taxes to the Federal Government. As of 2008, Texas residents paid a total of $88,794 million dollars in income taxes. 15 This does not include Federal taxes paid by Texas businesses.
Besides sales tax, other taxes include franchise, insurance, natural gas, alcohol, cigarettee and tobacco taxes. Texas has no personal state income tax.
- Major spending categories
For FY 2011, the top Texas State Agency spending categories were approximately:16 Public Assistance Payments: $26,501,123,478.54 Intergovernmental Payments: $21,014,819,852.52 Interfund Transfers/Other: $12,319,487,032.40 Salaries and Wages: $8,595,912,992.82 Employee Benefits: $5,743,905,057.61
- United States Congressional Delegations from Texas
- Government Finance Officers Association of Texas (GFOAT)
- Rathjen, Frederick (April 1957). "The Texas State House". Southwestern Historical Quarterly (American Heritage Publishing) LX (4).
- The Plural Executive (dead link). University of Texas at Austin. 2005. Archived from the original on April 18, 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-07
- "We found 6 TFS offices based on your search for College Station, TX (6).." Texas Forest Service. Accessed August 30, 2008.
- "Contact Us." Texas Engineering Experiment Station. Accessed October 19, 2008.
- Kraemer, RIchard (2009). Texas Politics, 10th edition. chapter 2, page 48. HEINLE Cengage.
- "MUDs and Houston profit from annexation system" (HTML). community ImPACT Newspaper. Retrieved 2011-10-05.
- "Limited Purpose Annexation" (PDF). SanAntonio.gov. Retrieved 2006-04-29.
- "Even budget deficits are bigger in Texas."
- "Lines Blur as Texas Gives Industries a Bonanza."
- State Revenue by Category, Texas Transparency, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
- State Spending by Category, Texas Transparency, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
- Texas.gov official website
- Window on State Government, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
- Texas Politics Textbook
- Texas Government Newsletter
- Handbook of Texas