Long-awaited legislation to stop local governments lobbying against citizens with their own tax dollars received tentative approval in the Texas Senate on Thursday, with all Republicans supporting the popular measure and all Democrats opposed.
“The concept is really simple: Don’t use the taxpayers’ money to lobby against taxpayers,” said State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R–Houston).
Each legislative session, school districts, cities, and counties spend millions of local tax dollars intended for core services on professional lobbyists. Those lobbyists then influence Austin lawmakers to increase local governments’ ability to tax and regulate their citizens—using taxpayers’ own money against them.
Spending tax dollars on Austin lobbyists gives governments an unfair advantage over citizens, at taxpayers’ expense.
SB 175 prohibits political subdivisions from spending public funds on “hired gun” lobbyists—individuals required to register under state law for the purpose of lobbying a member of the Legislature.
The bill also prohibits using public funds to pay a nonprofit state association or organization that primarily represents political subdivisions, if the organization hires or contracts with an individual required to register as a lobbyist under Chapter 305.
Top examples of organizations funded with tax dollars that lobby against citizens 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).
State Sen. Bob Hall (R–Edgewood) called it “an understatement” to say that TASB supports positions that don’t represent most Texas parents’ values.
Hall also noted that TML “makes a lot of money off taxpayer dollars” and lobbied against legislation to give voters a say on property tax increases.
Middleton recalled TML’s presentation to city officials on maximizing tax collections from citizens called “Shaking the Money Tree.”
He added that many professional lobbyists are using funds from local governments to advocate for legislation that benefits themselves.
“It’s not a partisan issue, and shouldn’t be,” Middleton said, citing polls that show strong bipartisan support for the ban among Texas voters.
But senators split along party lines, voting 19-12 to approve SB 175.
The Senate must cast a final vote on the measure before sending it to the House for consideration.
House lawmakers killed attempts to end taxpayer-funded lobbying in 2019 and again in 2021—even though the issue was a Texas GOP priority both years and Republicans controlled the chamber, as they do this session.