As Texas' big cities boom like few places in the U.S., Republican Gov. Greg Abbott is trying to rein them in and reassert himself ahead of his 2018 re-election bid, but some of his summer demands are wilting.
That includes a "bathroom bill" targeting transgender people that by Saturday was all but dead in Texas for the second time this year. For Abbott, who is out to satisfy his restless base of social conservatives, a special 30-day legislative session that began with him demanding 20 new laws could end next week with many failing.
It also deepened a rift between Republican leaders and Texas' biggest and most economically vibrant cities — Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin — which felt under attack by an agenda heavy on curbing municipal authority. Similar power struggles between cities and states are increasingly playing out nationwide as GOP governors take aim at liberal urban areas where Democrats wield most influence.
Late Saturday, the Republican-controlled House pushed a contentious measure closer to Abbott's desk to the dismay of cities. It would require local officials to get voter approval for tax hikes above a certain threshold, which mayors say would hamper their ability to keep financial pace with their fast-growing cities.
"Texas is best when the state and cities are working together in partnership. Not as adversaries," San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. "The irony of all this is that if it is the truly in the business of the Legislature to ensure a strong Texas economy and educate its citizens, they're cutting of their nose off to spite its face."
Republicans have also made attempts to put spending caps on cities and limit the ability to annex new land. Another proposal would take an axe to local ordinances that stop or discourage homeowners from chopping down trees.
Conservatives contend that having a patchwork of local rules puts Texas at a competitive disadvantage and makes cities less inviting with undue regulation. Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a firebrand conservative who was the Texas chairman of Donald Trump's presidential campaign, went even further this month, calling cities the source of what ails the nation.
"And where do we have all our problems in America? Not at the state level run by Republicans, but in our cities that are mostly controlled by Democrat mayors and Democrat city council men and women," Patrick told Fox Business Network.
Bennett Sandlin, executive director of the Texas Municipal League, said the push by Republican leaders is shortsighted. Earlier this year, the Texas Legislature reversed Austin voters who effectively banned ridesharing services Uber and Lyft from operating in the city because the companies would not submit drivers to fingerprint background checks.
"If you have a problem with a plastic bag or an Uber car or a fire because there wasn't enough money to buy a new firetruck, the people who pass those bills need to own up to the fact that it's hard to be mayor," Sandlin said. "They can't handcuff us and then walk away."