By Kimberly James
Though the fog of the recent election is barely lifted, the Texas Senate State Affairs Committee has already announced its plans to discuss lobbying reform at its meeting on Monday.
The committee is chaired by Sen. Bryan Hughes, who proposes preventing taxpayer dollars from being used by city and county governments to send lobbyists to Austin.
"Banning taxpayer-funded lobbying will help stop the California-zation of Texas," James Quintero, policy director of Government for the People at Texas Public Policy Foundation, told The Center Square.
"Right now, local governments spend tens of millions to hire an army of contract lobbyists," Quintero added. "Those lobbyists then flood the Texas Capitol to argue for higher taxes, more spending, and bigger government. It’s an unethical practice that is turning Texas into something unrecognizable – and it’s being done on the public’s dime."
The past two legislative sessions have been efforts to crack down on local governments across many areas, including annexation rules and property taxes. Other issues to be brought up this session include limiting local officials' emergency powers and mass mailing absentee ballot applications.
To support their position of continuing to use taxpayer funds to access lobbyists, Quintero said local governments can try to argue that they have the right to free speech.
"Governments don’t have rights; they have powers," Quintero said. "Only citizens have rights."
These lobbyists also help local governments keep track of the many bills filed each session that could affect city or county residents. A mayor or county judge may not have time to keep up with all that legislation.
"Local officials oftentimes seek to justify taxpayer-funded lobbying by saying it’s done in the public interest. But in reality, it only benefits government itself," Quintero said. "Last session’s big fight on property tax reform is just one example of how the average person stands to lose. A taxpayer-funded lobbying ban won’t stop local elected officials or their staff from contacting their state representatives. In fact, it means local officials will have to communicate even more – by phone, in-person, and in every other way that’s available to the average Texan."
Those who support the lobbying ban say those funds could be used more effectively if directed to other community services.