Is DMN's "Watchdog" More Conservative Than House Republicans? - Texas Scorecard

A liberal newspaper’s watchdog supports the same property tax reform the Texas House refused to pass—a body with a two-thirds Republican majority.

Does this sound hard to believe? I don’t blame you. But don’t take my word for it. Read the words of taxpayer-advocate and Dallas Morning News “Watchdog” Dave Lieber:

“To all city and county officials and your paid lobbyists who are blanketing state lawmakers with anti-property tax reform complaints: You ought to be ashamed. The Watchdog is calling you out. You’re acting piggish in your protest of Senate Bill 2, the big property tax reform measure. You look greedy. You don’t want to be accountable to your taxpayers.”

Frankly, I’m surprised the DMN Editorial Board allows Lieber so much leeway.The paper shamelessly endorses duplicitous Republicans along with liberal Democrats, including the same lawmakers who killed tax reform in 2017. Most recently, DMN endorsed incumbent State Rep. Jason Villalba (R–Dallas) against conservative challenger Lisa Luby Ryan.

Villalba boasted on Twitter about voting with House Democrats against the property tax bill supported by Gov. Greg Abbott, a majority of Republican lawmakers, and taxpayers. Earlier in the year, Villalba called the House’s most conservative caucus “idiot pirates” and “jackasses.”

Passing property tax reform through the Texas House only required 76 votes. With 95 so-called Republicans in the 150-member chamber, getting 76 votes should have been easy. But city and county officials spent taxpayer money to lobby against SB 2, scaring many weak-kneed Republicans like Villalba. Again, from Lieber:

“Many governments are using precious taxpayer dollars to hire expensive, influential lobbyists to push against your own voters’ best interests. You say you want local control for your town and county budgets, and you want [lawmakers] to butt out of your business,” Lieber wrote. “In truth, you actually fear your own voters butting into your business which is really our business, not yours. It’s so obvious.”

In short, local officials who raise property taxes don’t want to be forced to get voter approval. As Lieber wrote, these officials say they want “local control,” but they really want control. Not local taxpayer control.

SB 2 would have given taxpayers a say on city, county, hospital and college district tax hikes, a requirement already applied to school districts. The Texas Senate passed the reform during the regular and special sessions, with the support of Abbott, Lt. Gov Dan Patrick, and the conservative senate. But House Speaker Joe Straus refused to endorse the bill. Even worse, he ensured it would never reach Abbott’s desk.

Thanks to Abbott, it became politically untenable for Straus to ignore tax reform altogether during the special session. So his loyalists first delayed SB 1 (the special session version of SB 2), then watered it down, and then killed it. Unlike Patrick, who was willing to negotiate out policy differences, Straus refused to even sit at the table. He refused to appoint House conferees to meet with the Senate. Then Straus violated the House rules, and sent members home early.

SB 2’s author, State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R–Houston), rightly refused to pass the House’s “meaningless” bill. Instead, he gave a passionate speech to colleagues in frustration, and committed to fight again in 2019. Lieber agreed with Bettencourt’s common-sense version, further accosting the officials who lobbied against it.

“If [local city and county officials] can’t grow your local government with a 3.9 percent annual tax increase or less to avoid voter approval, maybe you have the wrong job…The idea of forcing governments to come to us and sell us on their priorities doesn’t scare me. It terrifies you.”

Lieber is a long-time advocate for transparency and government accountability. The fact that pro-Straus Republicans refused to pass a bill supported by DMN’s “Watchdog” should be eye-opening to those who insist on re-electing Straus-loyalists like Villalba.