The Government of Texas consists of a state government, as well as governments at the county and municipal levels.
State law and government
Austin is the capital of Texas. The State Capitol resembles the federal Capitol Building in Washington, 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 facing south toward Mexico City and for purposely being built seven feet taller than the U.S. national capitol.
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: Kay Bailey Hutchison (since 1993) and John Cornyn (since 2002). Texas has 32 representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives: 19 Republicans and 13 Democrats.
The Texas Constitution, adopted in 1876, is the second oldest state constitution still in effect. 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 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. Except for the secretary of state—who is appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate—each of these officials is elected (the three Railroad Commission members are voted at-large; the State Board of Education members are voted in single-member districts). 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.
The Legislature of Texas, like the legislature of every other state except Nebraska, is bicameral (that is, it has two chambers). The House of Representatives has 150 members, while the Senate has 31. The speaker of the house, currently Tom Craddick (R-Midland) leads the House, and the lieutenant governor (currently Republican David Dewhurst) leads the state 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 desired.
The judicial system of Texas has a reputation as one of the most complex in the United States, with many layers and many overlapping jurisdictions. 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.
Texas has a total of 254 counties, by far the most counties of any state. Each county is run by a commissioners court consisting of four elected commissioners (one from each of four precincts drawn based on population) and a county judge elected from all the voters of the county. The county judge does not have authority to vote a decision of the commissioners court; the judge votes along with the commissioners. 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. 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.
Counties also have much less legal power than municipalities. For instance, counties in Texas do not have zoning power (except in very rare circumstances). However, counties do have eminent domain power. Counties do not have "home rule" authority; whatever powers are not specifically granted by the state are not permitted (as an example, most counties have no authority to require property owners to maintain their lands free of 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 (as an example, 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 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 (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 deannexed. 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 collect city sales tax from businesses or city property tax from owners). The purpose of limited annexation is to allow the city to control development in an area that it eventually will fully annex; it must do so within three years (though it can arrange "non-annexation agreements" with local property owners). During each of the three years, the city must develop a land use plan (zoning, for example), identify needed capital improvements, and identify the financing for such improvements as well as to provide essential services.
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.
School and special districts
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.
- ^ "Limited Purpose Annexation" (PDF). SanAntonio.gov. http://www.sanantonio.gov/planning/Limited_Purpose_annexation_2004.pdf. Retrieved 2006-04-29.
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