Local Government in the Texas Constitution

Focus on Counties

Counties were historically the most important units of local government in Texas. They were suited to the sparse, largely rural population in the early decades after independence from Spain.

The framers of the current Texas Constitution addressed issues related to counties, including creation of new counties, governmental organization, taxation and revenue, and other powers and restrictions.

County Organization

The Texas Constitution identifies the central institutions for county administration: county courts and the county commissioners court; taxation and revenue, and general provisions for additional county administrative offices. The main points addressed in the Constitution:

  • County court and a county judge in each county
  • County precincts, justices of the peace and county constables
  • County Commissioner's Court and executive administration
  • County clerk, county attorney, district attorney and sheriff
  • County tax assessor
  • County tax collector
  • County treasurer and county surveyor

County Operation

The Texas Constitution includes details on the operation of counties and their public officers, including:

  • Apportionment for representation in the state legislature
  • Taxation of lands for public education
  • Occupation tax
  • Assessment and taxation of property
  • Exemption of local public property from taxation or forced sale
  • Multiple paid public offices

The Texas Constitution contains numerous other provisions that empower or prohibit actions by county government. Some of the things counties are empowered to do include: constructing seawalls in coastal counties, prohibiting alcohol sales, establishing a poor house or farm for taking care of the poor.

Source: Local Government in the Texas Constitution
© Texas Politics Project, College of Liberal Arts, The University of Texas at Austin

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