Earlier this year, State Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano) filed legislation that would forbid governmental agencies from spending taxpayer funds to employ lobbyists to kill taxpayer friendly reforms. State Sen. Konni Burton joined Shaheen in backing taxpayers, making state headlines and prompting complaints from local officials like Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, by banning taxpayer funded lobbyists from their offices. Standing up for taxpayers and limited government once again, Shaheen has filed legislation that would require more ballot transparency for Texans.
The move has organizations like the Texas Municipal League reeling that anyone would dare stand against the big government interests and reckless debt that’s burdening Texans, or dispel the smoke and mirrors that have enabled it.
Drowning doesn’t even begin to describe the amount of debt in the Lone Star State. According to the Texas Bond Review Board, Texas’ local government debt totals more than a jaw-dropping $342 billion— and almost half of that figure is interest.
It gets worse. In terms of per capita debt, the Lone Star State is second only to New York. In terms of total debt, Texas is second only to California.
The very same parties responsible for the debt in the first place, local governments and their lobbying organizations like the aforementioned Texas Municipal League, Texas Association of Counties, Texas Association of School Boards, etc., are now the same ones opposing any reforms to increase transparency and disclosure in the process. The organizations and the taxpayer-funded entities they represent don’t want transparency, they want voters left in the dark. After all, inviting public scrutiny doesn’t advance their agenda.
To attack Shaheen’s legislation the lobby was forced to make ridiculous arguments and misrepresent the bill. They alleged that it would be hard to understand, and that it would lengthen the ballot and confuse voters, resulting in people not voting or longer lines. Such a tacit admission of their distrust for voters’ comprehension speaks volumes about their style of governing.
The remarks drew strong objection from State Rep. Mike Schofield. “We should be a lot more concerned by the size of our debt than the size of the ballot,” said Schofield.
Nonetheless, Rhonda Skillern-Jones, the board president of Houston ISD, still tried to make the point in her testimony. “Ballot fatigue is real. I think that the verbiage is unnecessary and excessive,” said Jones.
“My bill requires three additional sentences, hardly an expansion of the ballot,” responded Shaheen. Review of a sample ballot reflecting the changes his bill would entail shows just that.
Shaheen’s legislation would challenge the norm by requiring governments to provide information on the ballot concerning the current debt of the issuing entity, the additional debt being requested, and the increase in taxes on the average home in the jurisdiction.
Refreshingly, not everyone testifying on the legislation was against Shaheen. Allen Vera, the Chairman of the Harris County Republican Party Ballot Security Committee testified in favor of the change along with Peggy Venable of Americans for Prosperity-Texas.
“I find it problematic that there are so many local officials and associations representing local taxing entities saying they don’t want to ‘burden us’ with more information on the ballot,” said Venable. “They sure don’t seem to mind burdening us with higher taxes and more debt.”