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Texas Politics - The Constitution
5.2    County and Municipal Government

Curiously, Article XI is titled "Municipal Corporations," yet a good number of its provisions deal with county government. Indeed, it begins by recognizing the counties as "legal subdivisions of the State."

After describing the types of legislative actions required for incorporating cities and towns, this article devotes considerable ink to the issues of taxation and public debts. Cities and towns are authorized to lay and collect annual taxes according to the following schedule:

  • 10,000 residents or fewer - no more than one-quarter of 1 percent
  • more than 10,000 residents - no more than 2 per cent

This article continues by authorizing counties, cities, and towns to lay and collect taxes to pay for outstanding debts (presumably left over from the Radical era). Counties on the Gulf coast are authorized to use public revenues to build sea walls and breakwaters, with the state Legislature authorized to provide financial and other assistance.

Article XI exempts county, city, and town property from forced sale for non-payment of debts. It also authorizes the state Legislature to create independent school districts in cities and towns. Cities and towns, in turn, are authorized to collect taxes in support of those independent school districts, provided that two-thirds of citizens vote in support of those taxes.

The overall treatment of county and municipal government in the Constitution is quite uneven. Specifications for the organization of local government, including for county and local judges, tax assessor, tax collector, treasurer, and surveyor, are scattered throughout the various articles. The two articles primarily dedicated to counties and municipalities are focused on the geographic size and shape of counties and on issues of taxation and spending.

The seeming slapdash treatment of local government results, no doubt, from several dynamics in the 1875 Constitutional Convention. First, the Convention sought to accomplish its work in only a short time. Second, the framers were insistent in restricting the taxation and spending authority of government at all levels, including the local level. Finally, it seems evident that the framers frequently could not resist the impulse to detail even minute aspects of governance and policy.

Texas Politics:
© 2009, Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services
University of Texas at Austin
3rd Edition - Revision 115
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