Tennessee Deserves The Right To Vote - Annexation Is No Exception - And Response

Monday, January 6, 2014 - by Rep. Mike Carter

Tennessee is currently one of only three states in America that allows cities to unilaterally annex property by ordinance, without a vote or other statutory protection. When the Speakers of the House and Senate created an ad hoc committee to examine this issue in 1996, it determined the right to vote on annexation wasn’t necessary. I respectfully disagree.  

Last year I introduced a bill in the House that would end this practice, commonly known as forced annexation, by requiring a vote before the annexation of residential and farm property can take place. If there is a good argument for why Tennesseans should not have at least the same private property rights and protections as Californians and New Yorkers, I have yet to hear it.

In 2012, North Carolina became the most recent state to end forced annexation, and it did so with a strong bi-partisan vote in the legislature. The right to vote is not a Republican or a Democratic issue. It is a right cherished by all Americans that should not be disregarded. 

Opponents of the right to vote on annexation argue cities must be able to annex in order to ensure that they and the surrounding area remain fiscally viable and economically competitive. There are three problems with this argument as it pertains to my bill: First, my bill doesn't effect annexations of commercial or industrial property, nor does it apply to cases where property owners seek to come into a town or city. Second, allowing Tennesseans a vote on annexation does not mean cities can’t annex. It simply means that they can’t annex without the consent of the governed. Third, the claim that annexation is necessary for economic growth and competitiveness is simply not supported by the data.

A recent study conducted by TACIR (The Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations) found ‘the claim that expanding cities’ boundaries is essential to economic growth cannot be fully demonstrated,’ and that ‘analyses of multiple cities have mixed results, with no conclusive evidence that annexation results in increased efficiency, revenue, wealth or equity.’ 

The TACIR study looked at all 50 states and grouped them according to annexation method – consent only, unilateral, hybrid, none, and third party approval – and compared the states’ growth per capita since 2000 in four measures: population, gross domestic product, personal income, and employment. 

States that require a vote, also known as consent states, led in all categories. Nevada led the nation in population growth. North Dakota had the largest growth in both real GDP per capita and real personal income per capita. Utah, also a consent state, led the nation in job growth per capita, with 20 percent growth in full and part-time employment from 2000 to 2011.

Honest people can disagree on the details of annexation. Issues like de-annexation and how tax revenue is shared with counties are complex and deserve study, but the right to vote is fundamental and should not be denied Tennesseans any longer. 

States must cut budgets or raise taxes. Counties must cut budgets or raise taxes. Why should cities have powers adverse to voters and superior to all other forms of government?

Let us vote. 

Rep. Mike Carter 

* * * 

Mike Carter makes a lot of sense. One of the premises of annexation is the guarantee by the city to bring city services to the annexed area. Fire and police services, garbage collection, sewer construction, etc. In the past few years, these have been guaranteed by the city of Chattanooga, but only a fraction of the promises have come to fruition. Instead of increasing the size of the police force, they were just spread thinner. Sewer construction…have you seen any? 

De-annexation should go part and parcel with Rep. Carter’s proposed bill. Annexation where promises are not kept in a timely fashion should be over-turned, either by regulation or popular vote. And not just by vote of the entire city, but solely by those in the affected areas. Taxes from outlying areas should not be used to bolster police protection in Brainerd or North Chattanooga. 

Putting annexation to a vote is the ethical and correct procedure. If the myopic City Council can dictate to allow unmarried partners, family and dependents to share taxpayer-paid insurance because a single individual is employed by the city, annexation should be able to be brought to a vote as well. The Tennessee Legislature is frightened that without a state income tax annexation is a viable option. The facts simply do not bear this out. Get with it Tennessee Legislature. You’re behind the times and this will be an election issue. 

David D. Fihn

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