The legislation was originally postponed last Friday after the discovery of a technical error that could have resulted in a point of order against the bill.
During floor debate, Middleton’s bill was hit with a barrage of points of order — the first two of which were called before the Wallisville Republican could get a word out. Both points of order failed.
Middleton stated in his explanation of SB 29, “This bill bans our tax money from being spent by political subdivisions of this state from lobbying for higher taxes here in Austin.”
Some recent polling indicates that over 90 percent of Texans oppose taxpayer-funded lobbying.
Nevertheless, the chaos started when Middleton offered an amendment that clarified SB 29 applied only to counties and municipalities. However, Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) successfully amended Middleton’s amendment to include only counties with a population above 250,000 and municipalities within those counties.
This excluded all but 20 of Texas’ 254 counties from the ban.
Ashby’s amendment passed with 30 Republicans voting in favor and was implemented into the final version of the bill.
Ashby expressed concern that the bill would burden rural counties. “They can’t afford to have someone on staff keep up with everything going on [in the legislature],” Ashby said. However, Middleton believes the bill would “even the playing field” between rural and urban areas.
Middleton said in response to Ashby’s amendment, “I don’t believe our rural taxpayers should be treated differently than our urban taxpayers.” And by adopting this amendment, Middleton continued, “We’re saying our rural taxpayers are worth less.” He finished by saying, “I think we need to treat all taxpayers equally whether they are rural or urban.”
Rep. Kyle Biedermann (R-Fredericksburg), when questioning Ashby on his amendment, said: “This [the bill] is for taxpayer protection, not protection for our cities and counties.”
The adoption of the Ashby amendment effectively killed the legislation.
Texans have expressed concern over numerous tax issues. Included among them is the premier issue of the session: property taxes.
An early 2019 poll found that 58 percent of Texans believe property taxes are too high. To partly address this issue, the “Big Three” pushed a sales tax increase to help offset the planned property tax abatement. But this plan was shown to be unpopular, and ultimately resulted in the abandonment of the sales tax increase.
Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) offered a clarifying amendment that would define and refine language in the amendment that would allow cities and counties to, among other things, join their local chambers of commerce.
In total, 11 amendments were offered and five were implemented before the legislation was ultimately defeated.
Since 1993, lobbyists (both publicly and privately funded) have spent almost $70 billion on government recipients. In that same time frame, lobbyists have spent over $130 billion in total expenditures.
Rep. Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) highlighted the problem with taxpayer-funded lobbying by using an example from Houston. The City of Houston paid HillCo, an Austin-based lobbying firm, on its behalf.
Earlier this year, the Harris County Department of Education terminated that contract because, as HCDE Trustee Josh Flynn said, “we’re spending money for a lobbyist with taxpayer dollars to lobby against the taxpayer.”
Phelan said of the situation, “firefighters [weren’t] being hired and [weren’t] being given the oath of office, yet [Harris County taxpayers] were paying a lobbying firm $660,000 to work against the interest of the taxpayer in Houston.”
Update: Rep. Middleton provided the following statement, “While I am disappointed that a majority of my colleagues in the Texas House refused to stand with Texas taxpayers and the 91% of Texans surveyed who support a ban on taxpayer-funded lobbying, their failure to act has only ensured that I will redouble my efforts to ban the corrupt practice of our tax dollars being used in Austin to lobby for higher taxes in our state. I am adamant that Texans have the tools to hold state and local officials accountable on this issue and plan to bring this bill forward again next session.”
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and 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.