Characteristic Law Cities Charter, Issues, and Apportionment

general law

General law refers to any law which is not contained in the constitution. It is the supreme law of the land and every citizen is entitled to enjoy it. A general law is applicable to all subjects within the territory subject to the jurisdiction of the legislature who enacted it, and is deemed to be a general law throughout the whole territory. E.g. the general civil law, or common law

The authorities referred to in this article are those governing the administration of public welfare in general law cities. There are several types of bodies having general law authority. These include the state board of health, the state board of education, the state university system, local governments such as townships, and bodies corporate which have common interest with these municipalities. These bodies include, but are not limited to: county Boards of License, boards of county officers, state licensing boards such as the Department of Licensing and Certification, and state boards of education. The powers conferred upon these boards are not confined to those mentioned in the constitution or in laws.

These are just a few among many. The characteristic law city charter cities are the basic unit of government. These are empowered to pass their own laws that are inclusive of all categories and aspects of municipal affairs. This includes taxation and regulation of local commerce by way of licenses, tariffs, and licensing fees.

It may be noted here that the nature of power possessed by the city council (the governing body) and the mayor (the mayor being a person who holds the Chair of the City Council) is very different from that of the members of a county board or a town meeting. While the powers possessed by the members of such bodies are specified in the statutes they constitute, the powers possessed by the city council and its chairperson (mayor) are not specifically enumerated in the municipal affairs charters. This is where the statutory language or the “laws” comes into play. This is the area in which we must seek to gain some insight into the meaning of municipal affairs charters when they are used to enact city council operations and ordinances. It is in this area that we find the general law of property qualifications to be found.

In the lexicon of property qualification, we find a couple of words which are quite revealing. They are “voting right” and “existing taxes”. Now we see where the charter cities of Texas are distinct from their state law counterparts.

A “voting right” is a right generally possessed by every individual state citizen which is not attached to any particular office. In this regard, it is important to note that “voting rights” is a term which was not associated with municipal affairs in the state of Texas until after the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted by the states in its constitution. Since then, voting rights have been seen as an individual right possessed by all citizens regardless of their residence within a state. This was a Constitutional amendment which, ironically, was pushed through by the proponents of franchise taxation. The legislature required all cities to levy franchise taxes against property owners in order to provide services; this was the first time in the history of Texas that such a tax was imposed on property solely for the operation of city government.

The second characteristic law city charter issue is “existing taxes”. This term is used in a non-taxation context, which is very important. That is, it indicates that a tax which has previously been levied on the property is to be re-imposed on the property for which it was levied. Now, this is not a simple thing to determine. The state supreme court has interpreted “existing taxes” as: taxes of a character which have been imposed in the past for the purpose of providing a certain benefit now sought for by the municipality.

In my opinion, it is better to err on the side of caution than to err on the side of recidivism. If we err in our interpretations of constitutional provisions, that is, if we apply them in areas where they are not clear, there is a chance that those attempts might create troublesome situations down the road. For example, a legislature which imposes an income tax on a piece of property without having regard to what effect it will have on subsequent sale prices cannot properly be judged for purposes of apportionment. It is far better for us to err on the side of caution than to err in that respect. Accordingly, I recommend that the General Assembly to revisit the charter provisions relating to property taxation and include a recommendation concerning the application of existing taxes to subsequent sale of that property.