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Gov. Abbott: This country isn't the "United States of Municipalities"

Gov. Greg Abbott raised eyebrows last week when he threw his support behind a "broad-based law" that pre-empts local regulations. On Monday, Abbott did not back away from the idea — but offered more detail about what he meant.

Gov. Greg Abbott speaks on the first day of the 85th Legislature on Jan. 10, 2017.

FORT WORTH — Gov. Greg Abbott raised many eyebrows last week when he threw his support behind a "broad-based law" that pre-empts local regulations, a remark that did anything but calm the already contentious local control battles at the Texas Capitol. 

On Monday, Abbott did not back away from the idea, saying that the country is not called the "United States of Municipalities." But he offered a little more detail about what exactly he meant. 

"It would be far simpler and frankly easier for those of you who have to run your lives and businesses on a daily basis if the state of Texas adopted an overriding policy and that is to create certain standards that must be met before which local municipalities or counties can establish new regulations," Abbott said at a lunch event, characterizing the proposal as a "broad-based ban on regulations at the local level unless and until certain standards are met." 

"The goal here is to make it far easier for businesses to conduct operations in the state of Texas that deal with cross-city and cross-county lines," Abbott said.

As an example, Abbott pointed to ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, which have chosen not to operate in some Texas cities — including Austin — due to disagreements over local regulations. Abbott asked his audience Monday to imagine all the local jurisdictions an Uber driver may have to navigate through in North Texas after picking up a passenger at Meacham International Airport. 

"Which city is going to govern the hail-riding car that you’re in?" Abbott asked. "Is it going to change every time you cross city lines? Is it going to be where you start, you end and every place in between? The answer is: Who knows? The answer is it gets very complicated for a company doing businesses to know which rules and regulations they have to comply with."

Abbott's remarks Monday came at a luncheon for the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute, the same Austin-based think tank that hosted Abbott on Tuesday in Corpus Christi when he first broached the subject of such a law. Since then, House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, has weighed in on the idea, saying that he does not think a "blanket policy on exerting power from Austin over locals is a particularly attractive idea." 

On Monday, Abbott held firm in his belief that the U.S. Constitution is the "predominant doctrine" when it comes to local control, citing the 10th Amendment's delegation of power that is not given to the federal government to the states and the people — not the cities, the governor noted. 

"When people say, 'Well, gosh, Abbott, you were for quote local control when you were suing the federal government and sued the Obama administration 31 times,'" Abbott said, invoking his claim to fame as Texas' former attorney general. "That's not true. I sued the Obama administration 31 times because I thought they were violating the United States Constitution. It wasn't because of local control."

Abbott's remarks nonetheless drew criticism from Democrats, who have long accused Republicans like the governor of trying to bend local officials to their will.

"Greg Abbott rolled his big government bandwagon into Fort Worth today to somehow convince local voters to give up their right to local control," Matt Angle, director of the Democratic Lone Star Project, said in a statement. "Abbott arrogantly insists that Austin knows better and that all the shots should be called from the State Capitol. He’s turning the principle of conservatism inside out."

As he has waded deeper into the local control fight, Abbott has had an ally in the Texas Public Policy Foundation, another Austin-based conservative think tank. It issued a statement Monday praising Abbott for his Fort Worth comments, saying it has become "clear that broad-based reforms are needed now more than ever to prevent the continued California-zation of Texas."

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Disclosure: Uber and the Texas Public Policy Foundation have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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Politics State government Greg Abbott