Local governments are lobbying the state legislature—and using tax dollars to do it. Lawmakers in the Texas Senate met in Austin on Tuesday to discuss banning on the practice.
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 taxpayer funds to lobby the legislature. It is often done in an effort to take on pro-taxpayer policies, such as property tax relief and reform or measures of increased accountability and transparency.
Although a bill banning the practice passed the Senate last session, it was killed in the House. As such, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick charged the Senate State Affairs Committee with studying the issue in preparation of potentially passing a bill to ban the practice this year.
State Sen. Bryan Hughes (R–Mineola) led the hearing. And though the committee met in the state Capitol between plexiglass walls, they heard only invited testimony virtually over videoconference.
State Sen. Bob Hall (R–Edgewood) filed legislation today to end the practice, and he was present at the meeting.
“Some examples on how their money has been used to work against their best interests are election integrity, true cost transparency of bonds, single-item bonds, ban on state income tax, first responder’s retirement fund protection, and they even when so far as to oppose the funding and protection of our teacher’s retirement fund,” said Hall. “It is time to stop diverting local money away from police, firefighters, teachers’ pay, and infrastructure improvements like roads to line the pockets of Austin lobbyists.”
James Quintero, the policy director for Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Government for the People Campaign, highlighted the cost that taxpayer-funded lobbying places on citizens in cities across the state.
The city of Houston, for example, plans to spend $1.3 million in Fiscal Year 2020-2021 on lobbying. The city of Austin, Quintero noted, is slated to spend about the same amount, including $130,000 on office space just blocks away from city hall.
Collin County Judge Chris Hill agreed with those seeking to end taxpayer-funded lobbying, saying that it is wrong to force citizens to spend the fruits of their time, talent, and treasure on causes they do not support.
Not all invited testimony was in favor of ending the practice, however.
Grand Prairie Mayor Ron Jensen claimed lobbyists “educated” him on what was happening in the state Capitol, a task that he said would be too difficult to do himself.
Tom Forbes, the president of the Professional Advocacy Association of Texas—an organization for lobbyists—argued that if the practice was banned, it would continue in the shadows.
Chris Hill called that line of thinking “an absolutely empty argument” and said that any law passed by the legislature could always be broken by criminals.
For the past few years, banning taxpayer-funded lobbying has been a legislative priority of the Republican Party of Texas, and in March of this year, nearly 95 percent of Republican primary voters in Texas supported a proposition to call for completely ending taxpayer-funded lobbying.
State Sen. Brian Birdwell (R–Granbury)—a member of the committee—suggested a compromise could be reached that applied the ban only to urban counties, leaving taxpayers in rural areas unprotected.
The legislature is scheduled to reconvene on January 12, 2021.