Taxpayer funded lobbying was a persistent theme throughout much of the 84th Legislative Session with the Texas Senate Research Center noting that over forty-two percent of registered lobbyists in Austin were representing city and county governments—that number excluded school districts. The major governmental entities in the Houston area sent forty-nine individual lobbyists to defend and expand their own power at taxpayer expense.

That’s right. Houstonians picked up most of the lobbying tab, while the rest went to Harris County residents living outside of Houston city limits.

During the 84th session, the City of Houston along with Houston ISD spent a combined $1.2 million in taxpayer dollars to further their agendas.

This from the same city who’s runaway Mayor is clamoring to break the voter-imposed property tax cap, among other offenses, because despite having a rain tax, the city still “doesn’t have enough money.”

HISD, who is on the cusp of requesting another bond, spent a little under $400,000 lobbying the legislature. The City of Houston alone spent $870,243. And unlike the average Houstonian’s job, Houston reimburses their lobbyists for “incidentals” and “travel expenses.”

This figure doesn’t include the number of individual lobbyists sent at taxpayer expense by the Emergency Service Districts, Special Purpose Districts, Appraisal Boards, Harris County Sports Authority, and a host of other government agencies representing the bulk of area residents.

Furthermore, it does not include other taxpayer funded, government-interest associations such as the Texas Municipal League (TML), Texas Association of Schools Boards (TASB), Texas Association of Counties (TAC), Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) and other well-funded groups that testify before committee, publish propaganda and engage in policy advocacy.

The amount of money Houston officials spent lobbying legislators certainly makes a compelling case against their dubious claim that, without increasing taxes or passing bonds, they are handicapped by limited funds from the revenue cap.

The problem with taxpayer funded lobbying is not that governments aren’t using taxpayer resources for “good things,” it’s that they’re using taxpayer money to unapologetically lobby for “bad things”—higher taxes and more governmental control.

When compared to their total budgets, the lobbying expenses may be perceived as less significant. But consider the enormous effect that grassroots citizens would have if they were able to force other people to fork over $1.2 million to send busloads of fellow citizens to the capitol, let alone lobbyist activity such as wining and dining legislators and their staffs.

But more importantly, on principle, the government’s lack of prudence in this regard echoes precisely what this publication has been saying all along—local governments, on average, have a spending problem, not a revenue problem.

Charles Blain

Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues.