In 1836, the Republic of Texas Congress formed the General Land Office to manage the public domain. The charge was to collect and keep records, provide maps and surveys, and issue titles. In addition to encouraging settlement of public lands via land grants, scrip redeemable in land was used to raise cash to finance the Texas Revolution and the expenses of the young nation.
Because the federal government would not take Texas' land as debt payments, Texas entered the Union owning its public land. Also, unlike other Gulf states, Texas owned its submerged lands - or tidelands - three marine leagues (about 10.3 miles) into the Gulf of Mexico. This proved to be a bounty that would yield rich rewards for the Lone Star State for generations.
Creation of the PSF
The Texas Constitution of 1876 set aside half of Texas' remaining public lands to establish a Permanent School Fund (PSF), to help finance public schools. State legislators intended for this land to be sold and the proceeds be deposited into the PSF. Over the next century, deposits to the PSF would be an inexhaustible source of revenue because only interest income from the fund could be spent and would be apportioned among the state's public schools.
Serving Texas Veterans
During the late 1800's some of the last unappropriated public domain was used to provide impoverished and disabled veterans of the Texas Revolution with land and a new start. Today, the Texas Veterans Land Board, or VLB, continues this tradition with low-interest loans on land, home purchases and improvement.
Oil changes everything
Discovery and production of oil on state-owned tidelands in the 1940's added an entire new facet to the responsibilities of the Land Office. After turning back a threatened federal takeover of these oil-rich tidelands in the 1950's, Texas continued to control mineral rights on millions of acres as oil production boomed. Royalties flowed to the Land Office for the Permanent School Fund and the schoolchildren of Texas. Today, that revenue still represents the largest source of earnings for the PSF.
Beaches belong to Texans
Also, in 1959, the Texas Legislature formalized an age-old property right with the creation of the Texas Open Beaches Act (OBA). The OBA officially banned private beaches and ensured the right of all Texans to access their beaches. As the steward of the Texas coast, the Land Office is responsible for striking a balance between private property rights and the right to beach access.
Taking care of Texas
The responsibilities and activities of the Land Office continued to expand in the 1970's and 1980's including an important role in good environmental stewardship of state resources. In 1986, the Texas General Land Office Adopt-A-Beach Program was created to keep state beaches clean of marine debris. For over twenty years, this program has motivated thousands of Texans to do their part to keep Texas beaches clean.
The massive Valdez oil spill in Alaska and a dangerous oil tanker fire in the Gulf of Mexico prompted the creation of the state Oil Spill Prevention and Response Program at the Land Office in 1991. Today, this program stands ever vigilant against spills - both large and small - in coastal waters.
Today and beyond
Today, the Texas General Land Office is focused on maximizing and diversifying revenue sources for the Permanent School Fund. For instance, the Land Office is leading the charge on the development of renewable energy on state lands as a sustainable source of earnings for the PSF. With historic leases for offshore wind energy, solar and geothermal, the Land Office is helping diversify revenue for future generations of Texas schoolchildren.
With over 170 years of history, the Texas General Land Office is moving into the future and finding new and innovative ways to serve the people of Texas.