Local Government in Texas: The Basics

Texas has the second-highest number of local governments of all fifty states with a total of 5,343 local governments in 2017.  Of these local governments, 1,472 are general-purpose governments (254 counties – the highest of any state – and 1,218 municipalities) and 3,871 are special districts (independent school districts, municipal utility districts, community college districts, etc.).  Keep in mind, however, that Texas is a large state.  Even though Texas has more local government entities than every state except Illinois, it ranks 33rd in total number of local governments per capita (39th in number of general-purpose governments per capita and 29th in number of special districts per capita).

Legal Foundations of Texas’s Local Governments

The U.S. Constitution is silent on the creation and authority of local governments.

“The fact that states are mentioned specifically and local jurisdictions are not has traditionally meant that power independent of the federal government resides first with the state. Through their own constitutions and statutes, states decide what to require of local jurisdictions and what to delegate.” – American Government (Openstax)

The legal foundations for Texas local government can be found in Texas law – specifically, the Texas Constitution of 1876 and various state laws passed by the Texas legislature, most notably the Texas Local Government Code.  These constitutional and statutory laws have outlined what kinds of local government may exist in Texas, how various types of local government may be structured, which state functions they are responsible for carrying out, and what services they can provide to their citizens.