Williamson County citizens are facing nearly half a billion dollars in new debt—and behind the numbers is a conflict-of-interest story involving the county officials who proposed the idea.
On Tuesday, county citizens will head to the polls and decide whether to approve a $447 million roads and parks bond, new debt that will be piled on to citizens’ property tax bills. County commissioners designed and placed the package on the ballot, and ever since they did, a political action committee has attempted to convince voters to approve more debt for themselves.
The PAC and the commissioners have one thing in common: They’re both funded by engineering and construction companies who stand to benefit if the debt is approved.
As previously reported by Texas Scorecard, construction-related companies almost solely fund the PAC, which is ironically called “Citizens for Safety, Quality Roads, and Parks.” The corporations have poured over $150,000 into the PAC to buy road signs, mailers, and advertisements promoting the bond. Many of the corporations are out of state and have already received multimillion-dollar contracts from the county in the past.
Furthermore, construction companies are also giving cash to the county commissioners themselves. Campaign finance reports revealed they gave all four commissioners and County Judge Bill Gravell a total of $55,046 over just the past two years, and not a single commissioner refused a donation from an individual or corporation in the construction industry.
That means that while county commissioners were considering if they should ask citizens for more money for a road bond, they were collecting re-election checks from companies who build roads.
That also means that if voters approve the bond, the county commissioners will decide which companies receive the money—something that shouldn’t be too hard to figure out. County commissioners have previously given plush contracts to the companies who donated to their campaigns.
“It’s influence, certainly. You’re trying to influence in some way, shape, or form,” resident David Wofford told KXAN. Wofford investigated similar financial ties between top county officials and businesses in the 2013 bond. “If there’s not influence coming from the county commissioners, then why are the engineering firms funding their campaigns?”
Ultimately, if voters decide to pile on half a billion to their already weighty property tax bills, the county officials in charge of stewarding that cash will be the ones deciding where to spend it. Would they truly seek out the best deal for taxpayers’ hard-earned money, or would they simply pay back their political supporters?
Election Day is Tuesday, November 5.