While the City of Austin is known for having a liberal reputation, “the blueberry in the tomato soup” as former governor Rick Perry often said, not every citizen is of a liberal persuasion or likely to fall lock-step behind bigger government. But that isn’t stopping the Austin City Council from spending hundreds of thousands on their behalf on Austin and Washington lobbyists.
This year, the Austin City Council is spending almost $700,000 in taxpayer money to lobby lawmakers against property tax reform and other pro-taxpayer issues. Under the agenda approved last October, Austin taxpayers will be on the hook for a whopping $540,000 to lobby Texas lawmakers and $132,000 to lobby federal representatives on policies that actually hurt working-class Austinites.
According to forms filed with the Texas Ethics Commission, six lobbyists have been contracted by the city: Brandon Aghamalia, Snapper Carr, Cliff Johnson, Clay Pope, and David White. Here are just a few pro-taxpayer items they’ll be using public dollars to lobby against:
Property Tax Reform
One of the city’s top priorities is to fight against the property tax reform called for by grassroots conservatives, the Texas GOP, and lawmakers like Gov. Greg Abbott.
The city council’s agenda explicitly instructs their lobbyists to work against virtually every part of his and other conservative lawmakers’ proposals including “imposing a revenue cap of any type, including a rollback rate below eight percent, a mandatory tax rate ratification election, a lower rollback petition requirement, a limitation on overall city expenditures, or an exclusion of new property in the effective rate calculations; or lowering the homestead appraisal cap or expanding the appraisal cap to non-homestead properties.”
Pre-Empting Paid Sick Leave Ordinances
Even though the state’s Third Court of Appeals blocked Austin’s paid sick leave law from being implemented, the city outlines opposition to the Texas Legislature pre-empting their unconstitutional ordinance in the name of “[protecting] Austin residents’ right to govern themselves.”
This is all in spite of the fact paid sick leave laws have only been proven to harm the very employees they claim to help.
Local Control of Pensions
Despite all the talk of allowing Austin to “govern itself,” Austin City Council doesn’t want to give its own voters the ability to adjust pension plans for police and fire. The agenda instructs lobbyists to seek to “maintain joint state and local authority over City of Austin employee retirement plans.”
Bond Transparency Requirements
Under the city council’s agenda, lobbyists are asked to “oppose legislation that restricts the ability of the city to issue debt through either General Obligation or Certificates of Obligation bonds or cause confusing and onerous public notification requirements.”
In other words, the city council doesn’t want any accountability on how much of the public’s money they can spend.
Ending Corporate Welfare
While the City of Austin might not want the duly-elected lawmakers of the State of Texas to pass any laws that affect them, they still want the state to funnel them tax dollars they can hand out to private businesses.
The city’s agenda asks lobbyists to “support legislation and funding that improves the City’s ability to attract economic development, tourism, and provides economic opportunities for Austin’s creative sector” and “support the continuation of state incentives and tools to supplement local economic development strategies.”
Protecting Second Amendment Rights
And despite being found guilty in court of violating Texas law and the rights of gun owners, the City of Austin is still reaching into taxpayers’ wallets to advance gun control.
Under the agenda approved by the city council, tax dollars will be used to “support legislation that reduces gun violence in coordination with local law enforcement including legislation that would limit or prevent access to firearms by domestic abusers or regulate and prevent access to bump stocks. Oppose legislation that would deregulate gun silencers/suppressors.”
Austinities should be incensed that their dollars are being used to advocate against their interests, but citizens in other cities shouldn’t feel off the hook—it’s likely their city councils have approved similar agendas and are likewise funding them with their tax dollars. Taxpayer-funded lobbying is so pervasive that 42 percent of lobbyists at the Capitol represent city and county governments.
Lawmakers should work in earnest to ban the practice of taxpayer-funded lobbying so no Texan is forced to pay for a political advocacy position they don’t agree with.