House Bill (HB) 749 would prohibit any political subdivision from using taxpayer dollars to fund lobbying activities on their behalf.
An analysis by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) found that in 2017, up to $41 million in taxpayer dollars was used to fund lobbying activities by local governments.
The prospective ban has broad backing among the electorate according to a 2019 poll by the right-leaning WPA Intelligence that found 91 percent support among Texas voters for the ban. It’s also among the Republican Party of Texas’ legislative priorities.
“It is fundamentally wrong that tens of millions of dollars is spent on middlemen between elected officials and the state legislature,” said Middleton at the hearing.
Taxpayer-funded lobbyists generally take two forms: 1) hired directly by a local government or 2) hired by an association to lobby on behalf of member entities.
Critics of that practice, like Middleton, assert it uses taxpayers’ money to lobby against their interests, such as property tax reform.
Supporters of the practice — like the Texas Municipal League (TML) and the Texas Association of Counties (TAC) — say it allows localities to more easily petition the state government on their citizens’ behalf.
Rep. Eddie Lucio III (D-Brownsville) voiced concerns about a potential loss in institutional knowledge provided to legislators by lobbyists and said that taxpayer dollars can still be funneled to lobbying practices indirectly.
Lucio, in an exchange with Collin County Judge Chris Hill who was in favor of the bill, interjected that localities should be able to hire legislative expertise “like they would a lawyer for legal expertise.”
Hill responded that local officials can, and should, seek guidance from experts in a given field. The problem for Hill and those supportive of the ban is when the expert, in this case a lobbyist, is paid to be the go-between from local to state official rather than the local official dealing directly with the legislator.
The bill’s fiscal note, which cites an analysis by TAC, says localities “hire additional staff to replace legislative research and analysis services” that are currently provided by organizations like TAC. For example, TAC states, Tom Green County estimates it’d have to hire four new positions to do that work.
Chris Woolsey, a city councilman in Corsicana, was among the locality-associated voices in favor of Middleton’s bill.
Woolsey was set to testify but left before the bill came up in the wee hours of Thursday. He told The Texan, “By allowing tax dollars to flow freely to lobbying activities, individuals are put at a disadvantage, and are more likely to be squeezed out of the process by full-time lobbyists hired by TML to advance their goals of more taxing authority and more regulatory power.”
Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) filed the companion bill in the upper chamber and another bill authored by a group of senators, including Hall, would ban the practice for cities and counties only.
That latter bill has been given high priority in the senate.
Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R-Southlake) laid out a related bill during the hearing that would require localities to publish information on their taxpayer-funded lobbying expenditures on their respective websites.
A petition circulated during the interim shows substantial support for a ban on taxpayer-funded lobbying in the state House, but which final form the ban takes is for another day.
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Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.