The last Texas Legislature introduced bills to end taxpayer-funded lobbying in both the House and Senate. The bills had wide-spread support among legislative leaders. Senate Bill 29 got the most attention, passing the Senate and getting onto the House floor before failing to pass the House on the second reading. The House sponsor of the bill, Representative Mayes Middleton, pulled the bill off the floor twice to tweak it before it eventually died.
On two different occasions, a State Representative and a State Senator made the observation that almost no taxpayer-funded lobbyist ever visits with them to lobby for an issue. Their point: taxing entities are wasting their taxpayer money when they hire lobbyists.
Considering the outcomes of the 86th Legislative session, they may have a point. Legislation limiting property tax caps did not go the way cities and counties would have liked. Lobbyists who certainly were not working for cities, sold legislators on two bills that substantially reduced the ability of cities to control planning and development. HB2439 and HB3167 were pitched as “freeing the development community from out of control city P&Z processes.” The Arlington development community does not see it that way, based on conversations at a recent Arlington Developers Council meeting. It would be reasonable for cities and counties to ask where their lobbyists were during the last session.
Those who oppose taxpayer-funded lobbying describe it as greedy bureaucrats spending taxpayer money to get more power to raise the taxes of those same taxpayers. No Texan would want that. On the other hand, the attitude about local control expressed by Speaker Dennis Bonnen on the Empower Texan’s recording does not inspire much trust among city and county officials.
It would be understandable that cities and counties feel the need to protect their revenue streams from a hostile legislature. SB29 would have unilaterally disarmed cities and counties, leaving them at the mercy of industry lobbyists.
A concern among Chambers, PTAs and other groups that receive support from taxing entities is that we not get caught in the unintended consequences of loosely written legislation like SB29. The upcoming 87th Texas Legislature will make an effort to control taxpayer-funded lobbying. We hope to see well thought out language that corrects inappropriate behavior but protects the legitimate interests of all parties.