The City of Dallas is preparing their legislative strategy to fight conservative efforts in the state legislature such as property tax reform, according to a meeting of the ad hoc legislative committee on Monday.
During the hearing, council members listened to a briefing on the upcoming legislative session from Clifford Sparks, the State Legislative Director for the city.
In his remarks, Sparks, essentially the chief lobbyist for the city, portrayed the fight against local “revenue caps” and property tax reform as the most pressing issues facing the city. He also said that, with the help of tax-funded lobbyists, they’ve been able to kill conservative reforms.
“The brass that’s in charge now in Austin,” Sparks said, referring to the Republican-controlled legislature, “they’ve been in place now for about three sessions, and I think it would be an understatement by me to say I think they know what they are doing now. In the past we’ve been able to out maneuver them as a city with our lobbyist, but now they’ve figured out the lay of the land, they’ve figured out who’s who.”
“Now it’s going to be a lot tougher this go around for us to do some of the things we’ve done in the past,” he concluded.
In Sparks’ comments, when referring to a potential property tax reform bill that would require voter approval for city and county tax hikes, he said, “We don’t know what the [exact] bill is going to be like, but we pretty much know it’s not going to be something we like.”
Sparks added that, while he believed some form of property tax reform was likely to pass in the upcoming session, he would work to get some “exemptions” that would carve out Dallas and undermine the law.
Perhaps the most shocking moment, however, came when councilman Philip Kingston pressed Sparks as to the vagueness of the proposals listed in his legislative priorities.
“It’s been my understanding from my predecessor, whenever you put forth a legislative agenda and you outline it, as a big city as we are, it gives the lobbying community a reason to lobby up against you,” Sparks explained. “So I’ve been taught and I’ve been shown if you can be general in what it is you are asking for, but be specific behind closed doors, it gives you a better fighting chance to get whatever it is the city is asking for.”
“Okay, that’s illegal,” Kingston fired back. “That violates the open meetings act. The people of the City of Dallas are entitled to know every specific initiative the city will seek.”
Dallas isn’t alone in using tax-funded lobbyists to quietly fight conservative proposals in the back halls of the legislature. Many cities big and small use tax dollars to lobby against their own citizens’ interests, specifically on issues like property tax reform. That’s because local officials don’t want any limit on their power to tax, spend, or borrow.
Local officials also do not want to signal to constituents when they’re voting to raise taxes, or be required to seek voter approval; they’d rather do it under the radar, unilaterally.
While bills have been filed in previous sessions to rid the practice of tax-funded lobbying, so far none have made it to the floor for a vote. Only with pressure from taxpayers can the practice come to an end.
The entire video of the Dallas City Council meeting can be viewed here: