Proposed legislation to ban taxpayer-funded lobbying is moving in the Texas Senate, receiving a hearing in the State Affairs Committee on Monday.
A long-standing practice in the halls of the Texas Capitol, taxpayer-funded lobbying refers to cities, counties, and other local governments or taxing entities spending money to lobby the Legislature. Often, it is done in an effort to take on pro-taxpayer policies such as property tax relief and reform or measures of increased accountability and transparency.
Some of the most cited examples of institutions engaging in taxpayer-funded lobbying in recent years are the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB), the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA), the Texas Municipal League (TML), and the Texas Association of Counties (TAC).
Senate Bill 175 by State Sen. Mayes Middleton (R–Galveston) would prohibit public funds from being used to hire registered lobbyists.
“This is a prohibition on governments sending tax money directly to taxpayer-funded lobbyists,” Middleton explained to committee members before public testimony.
Middleton said he was proposing the legislation partially because taxpayers are being forced to pay for their own opposition.
“Taxpayers are having to subsidize speech they don’t agree with,” said Middleton.
He also took aim at the lack of transparency with the process, noting that while government communications are public records, “That’s not the case with hired lobbyists.”
Testimony included local officials who supported the policy, bucking the taxpayer-funded lobbying organizations that claim to represent them.
Galveston County Treasurer Hank Dugie, who ran on a platform of abolishing his position, told senators he was in favor of the effort.
“I have long been a fan of the services provided by local government association such as TML and TAC for their risk pool management and for the legislation tracking that they provide,” said Dugie. “But the lobbying that they do is horrendous and is non-representative of the voters of Galveston County or across the state of Texas. These organizations have co-opted the clout, the status, and the office of local elected officials to use for their own special interests and purposes. These lobbyists misrepresent their members and misrepresent themselves as a pseudo-government organization with representative authority.”
Dugie cited as an example the TAC’s opposition to eliminating the Galveston County treasurer’s office, despite voters electing him to do exactly that.
Melissa Martin, a public school teacher, took aim at TASB for “undermining the parent-child relationship.”
“During my career, I’ve watched some troubling trends in education, and I’m especially troubled by the direction that TASB has taken our education system. I have watched over the years as parents have been excluded from decisions that impact their own children, and recently I’ve been very concerned by the advice that TASB has provided to school board trustees related to students and their gender,” said Martin.
In January, TASB advised its members to allow students to use the restroom designated for the opposite sex and obscure a student’s preferred name and pronouns if their parents object to their “gender identity.”
“Not only is the use of tax dollars and lobbying wrong, but it’s hurting students and the teachers in our education system,” Martin added.
Michelle Davis, a trustee of the Galveston Independent School District, agreed, adding that groups like TML were famous for educating local governing bodies on how they can “shake the money tree” to raise taxes to fund government expansion.
“The district that I worked for last year paid over $880,000 for administration memberships, with over $19,000 of that going to TASB alone. I think they could serve the citizens better by paying an employee to track legislation rather than to pay this outside entity to lobby our senators and and lawmakers,” said Davis.
Not all who testified were in favor of the ban. Grand Prairie Mayor Ron Jensen said he opposed the effort because he needed lobbyists to tell him what was happening in the Capitol.
“You’re not preventing this from calling down here. What you’re preventing is me having a paid lobbyist doing it, but I could have a staff person doing it,” Jensen told the committee. “What you’re going to force me to do is change how I pay for it. Plain and simple.”
After testimony, the bill was left pending in the committee.
Similar legislation has been filed in the Texas House by State Rep. Ellen Troxclair (R–Spicewood). It has not yet been referred to a committee.
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