The state of Texas is physically large, of course. It’s the biggest state by area in the continental United States. It’s also large by population, and is home to four of the 11 most populous cities in the U.S.
Recently, NAIOP leaders from the Houston area (fourth-largest city in the country) and Dallas area (ninth largest) gathered in Austin, the state capital (11th largest). The goal of this first-ever Texas legislative summit was for them to learn from each other and discuss ways for the chapters to work together on issues that are important to their cities and their state.
Although the chapters face different challenges, they have many things in common. Both, for example, are dealing with overregulation. In the Dallas area, represented by NAIOP North Texas, the city is using regulations to block development. City officials want to force any proposal to include “affordable housing,” whether or not the neighborhood would be suitable for it. Officials are also limiting development in areas south of the city.
In the Harris County area, represented by NAIOP Houston, there’s less regulation about where to develop. However, the city is considering a number of restrictions in response to Hurricane Harvey, which dropped 1 trillion gallons of water across the county last year over a four-day period. The regulations under consideration include a so-called “rain tax” and other restrictions on storm runoff.
In addition to dealing with similar problems, the chapters have many goals in common. They each support expansion of Houston’s port, which the federal government is carrying out so the facility can accept larger container ships.
The port is crucial to the state. This summer, a Dallas area business magazine reported: “Texas more than doubled its exports in the past 15 years and ranks No. 1 by far among states in selling to the rest of the world.” The port is a federal government responsibility, and the chapters agree the facility is generally well-managed. Many members of both chapters also support the idea of high-speed cargo rail to connect the cities.
A highlight of the meeting was a discussion by state Rep. Tan Parker, who represents the 63rd District. He noted that Texas has a “citizen’s legislature” that only meets once every two years. That means it needs to pass a 24-month budget to fund all the state’s responsibilities. This can be a challenge, as state revenues can vary depending on factors such as fluctuating oil prices. Still, Parker said lawmakers have a cohesive plan and a vision to keep the state moving forward.
Parker is chairman of the House Republican caucus, and has crisscrossed the state in recent weeks talking to citizens and elected officials at all levels, as he plans to make a bid to be House Speaker when the legislature convenes in January.
He said the hallmarks of the state are low taxes, minimal regulation and predictable policies. Together, those factors have created an economic climate that drives growth. Tort reform, Parker added, has encouraged companies to move their operations to Texas, creating jobs and opportunities. He represents the fastest-growing county in the United States.
Houston is, of course, still recovering from Harvey. But Parker said the legislature will soon be delivering billions in aid. “The state government wanted to make sure the federal government did its part for the recovery efforts, and that private companies did their part,” he said.
Recovery is “a marathon, not a sprint,” he noted, and could take another 8-10 years. When it reconvenes in January, Parker said he expects the legislature to tap into its “rainy day” fund (the state has roughly $11 billion saved up in emergency accounts) and write a big check to help.
Parker discussed the importance of making sure Texas remains a business-friendly state. “You couldn’t be in a better place than Texas,” he told the group. No doubt that’s something else that members of NAIOP Houston and NAIOP North Texas agree on.
Rich Tucker is Director of Public Policy Communications at NAIOP, where he develops and executes communication strategies to raise the visibility of NAIOP’s advocacy work on behalf of the industry