A draft of the city of Austin’s 2023 legislative priorities was released last week and already many people are sounding the alarm over its anti-taxpayer bent.
For instance, in the just-published document, the city suggests using its taxpayer-funded lobby muscle to oppose legislation strengthening the voter-approval tax rate, fight against proposals to enact a local spending limit, and resist efforts to expand debt transparency. Likewise, the city’s lobby team would also be tasked with supporting legislation that requires mandatory sales price disclosure, “enhances municipal revenues” (an intentionally vague charge), and protects revenues sources derived from ETJ residents, i.e. certain fees and limited forms of taxation.
Though its agenda, the city is sending a clear message: It will use your tax dollars to protect its revenue streams and go after more of your tax dollars.
Thus, while Austin claims it’s “act[ing] in the best interests of Austin’s residents” by supporting certain measures and opposing others, its actions speak louder than its words. But that’s not all.
Austin’s agenda is also full of other big government goals that oppose the interests of most Texans—including repealing voter ID requirements and implementing an assault weapons ban. This is unsurprising due to the partisan nature of the creation of this agenda, and it will be unsurprising when big cities across Texas implement similar goals with similar language.
However, as unsurprising as it may be that cities are attempting to increase their power, decrease accountability, and raise taxes, it’s infuriating that they’re using public funds to hire both internal and external lobbyists to sway the state government. With budgets numbering in the billions, big Texas cities are able to devote millions—yes, millions—to hiring expert lobbyists that allow cities to out-shout and override the voices of the average Texans who elected the state legislature.
The four largest Texas cities—Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, and Austin—are spending and average of $1.45 million each on lobbying efforts through both internal and external lobbyists. At time of writing, the 5th largest city—Fort Worth—doesn’t have a line item for lobbying. It’ll be part of the city manager’s office, which currently has a proposed budget of $10 million. It’s safe to assume there are a decent amount of funds for lobbying in that $10 million, but we’ll have to wait and see just exactly how big that amount is. So, not counting Fort Worth, that’s $5.8 million in lobbying from just four cities.
That’s right—$5,800,000. On lobbying. From just four major cities. To lobby for things most Texans oppose—bigger local governments, higher taxes, and more power to the bureaucracy.
Texan legislators had a good chance to prohibit taxpayer funded lobbying last legislative session. Over 91% of Texans want them to do so. But good lobbyists are good at their job, and their job is to make sure that legislators listen to them and not the millions of voters across Texas. And, when you’re spending millions of dollars on lobbyists, you’re going to get a good one.
Taxpayer funded lobbying is a heinous misuse of public funds that often goes against the wishes of many Texans—who yearn for small government and low taxes—to promote the wishes of a few Texans—city council members and mayors. It needs to end.