Texas taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to pick up the tab for Austin lobbyists working against them, says a state senator who has banned tax-funded lobbyists from entering her office.
State Sen. Konni Burton (R-Colleyville) has succinctly articulated the ethos behind opposing the fundamentally anti-taxpayer concept.
“The legitimate role of any lobbyist is to advocate on behalf of their client,” Burton wrote in a recent commentary. “Good lobbyists help us understand how proposed laws and regulations could impact their client’s business or issue, the effects on their employees, potential unintended consequences, and so much more. In essence, these types of lobbyists are privately funded ‘specialists’ who can provide tremendous resources and expertise to assist in the process. The role this type of lobbyist plays is greatly appreciated and largely misunderstood by the public.”
Unfortunately, those constitute a minority. As we’ve previously reported, over half of registered lobbyists represent a taxing entity of some variety.
“However, taxing entities, such as schools, water districts, cities, counties, hospital districts, community colleges and many others are using tax dollars to hire lobbyists to descend upon the Capitol each session. In fact, according to the TEC, taxing entities spent $29 million in 2015 on lobbying your state legislature,” wrote Burton.
Just what are these entities spending so much of taxpayers’ money advocating for?
According to Burton: “I quickly found that too often these lobbyists come to the Capitol to advocate for legislation that is not in the best interest of local taxpayers.”
In addition to hiring outside lobbying firms, government entities also pay dues to third-party associations to represent their anti-taxpayer interests. The Texas Municipal League is one such association. As we’ve previously noted, their legislative agenda is so definitively anti-taxpayer it almost reads as parody — even going so far as to oppose ballot transparency measures so that voters will continue blindly approving excessive debt and ever-increasing property taxes.
While the results make a compelling enough case against its practice, Burton rightly notes that the practice unjustifiably shields elected officials from the consequences of advocating for unpopular policies.
“[T]he practice of hiring outside lobbyists to advocate against the interest of the taxpayers within a taxing entity shield the elected board members, or commissioners, from being directly associated with advocacy for those policies,” Burton states. “This strikes me as terribly unrepresentative and hides from voters what their elected officials are truly pushing when the Legislature is in session.”
Sen. Burton attempted to remedy this last session by filing SB 711, which would have addressed all political subdivisions and their associations. Unfortunately, the bill never made it out of committee.
“This reform is still sorely needed, and I plan to reintroduce the bill in 2017,” Burton writes. “I look forward to working with any interested parties to craft sensible language, and I implore my fellow legislators to stand with me and adopt similar office policies.”
Considering that more than half of registered lobbyists will adamantly oppose this measure, Texans should count themselves fortunate there is someone in the upper chamber who is willing to do what’s right — even when it’s not popular under the dome.