Over half of registered lobbyists in Texas are hired to defend the power of local governments, paid for with taxpayer money. It makes perfect sense then, that State Sen. Konni Burton’s (R-Colleyville) effort (SB 1862) to reform the government lobbying structure was met with harsh opposition by—you guessed it—local governments.
According to the Texas Senate Research Center, forty-two percent of registered lobbyists represent the interests of city and county governments alone. If the entire government-lobbying sector is included such as schools, water and other localities including transit, toll and regional mobility authorities, the total percentage is well over fifty percent.
It’s no secret in Austin that government lobbyists aren’t representing citizen-interests, but the power of local politicians including their ability to tax and borrow. Essentially, local political interests funnel public money through lobbyists and associations to convince legislators to give them even more money and power.
Burton aims to subject local governments to limitations already placed on state agencies—they’re restricted from using taxpayer money to influence legislators, to whom they are “accountable.” Of course, with few facts on their side, local politicians resort to political spin to oppose reform.
Despite what critics falsely claim about Burton’s proposal, it would not restrict local politicians and their staff from directly communicating with legislators. Instead of enabling local politicians to outsource most of their policy stances through third parties, the reform would encourage a greater degree of communication between legislators and localities.
And with “local control” rhetoric all the rage, one would think local politicians would want to speak for themselves, instead of paying Austin-insiders to speak on their behalf.
One of the biggest misconceptions held by local officials is that Burton’s proposal would prevent them from being updated about pending legislation. Not true.
SB 1862 would only prevent government-interest associations such as the Texas Municipal League (TML) and the Conference of Urban Counties (CUC) from spending tax dollars to influence pending legislation. They would retain, however, their ability to testify before committees, register positions on bills, and inform their members with legislative updates.
Some officials such as Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price have rationalized the lobbying capability of government associations by claiming they help politicians “represent their constituents.” But TML, CUC and others have been unapologetic about their big-government objectives. In fact, TML even gave an award to State Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) for opposing lower property tax limits, while the CUC characterized the same taxpayer protections as a “clear and present danger” to the Texas Miracle.
Echoing President Obama’s “you didn’t built that” rhetoric, the North Texas Toll Authority published propaganda stating the proliferation of their own bureaucracy “builds communities” and creates “jobs and economic growth.” Their “study” didn’t bother to consider which came first—population growth or the road. In other words, private sector growth created the need for the new highway, not the other way around.
It’s obvious that government officials at all levels have an incentive to seek more power and authority from legislators—Burton’s proposal would simply restrict them from spending taxpayer money on Austin lobbyists in the process.
With well over half of lobbyists representing government agencies, is it any wonder that every single effort to reform government is met with hostility and indignation? Without reforms, Texans will continue to foot the bill for a never-ending, intergovernmental power struggle between local politicians and legislators that stand opposed to their own interests.