Most people know that the city of Houston will spend almost $1 million on contract lobbyists this year. But some may be surprised to learn that it also employs in-house lobbyists. And these Bayou City boosters excel at pushing for higher taxes, more spending, and less government accountability.
The city’s in-house lobby team, otherwise known as its Inter Government Relations (IGR) department, purportedly exists to: “Provid[e] effective counsel and advocacy for the Mayor’s policies and city operations before the federal and state government.” Said differently, they’re a highly paid public relations squad that carries water for the mayor. And theirs is no small operation, either.
Houston’s IGR department consists of four full-time employees equipped with an almost $600,000 annual budget. The department also borrows heavily from within. In 2019, it tapped more than 180 persons across two dozen different divisions to assist with “…reviewing legislation, crafting testimony, and understanding policy implications.” It also helps steer those aforementioned contract lobbyists, though things haven’t always gone to plan.
But while IGR has a mission and the means, it is hard to say what taxpayers gain from its pro-government activism. In fact, its advocacy arguably hurts, not helps, the average Houstonian.
Consider some of its chief lobbyist’s activities. When not attacking the mayor’s political rivals or trolling Texas’ junior U.S. Senator, the department director took stands against mainstream legislation, like bills to let voters decide on massive tax increases, to make government more transparent, to end forced annexation, and to ease local regulations that spike housing costs. Fortunately, most of these proposals passed in the end, but Houston-area taxpayers footed the bill for all of the attempted quashings.
These are just a few examples. Over the years, department staff have opposed countless commonsense reforms, both out in the open and behind closed doors. The IGR team may as well be known as Houston’s Anti-Freedom Force, a special bureau of big government guardians fighting for central planning and collectivist policies. Their success is liberty’s loss.
Today, the Texas Legislature is again in session and IGR has flooded the statehouse with its tax-paid promoters. At the top of their to-do list: preserve the city’s ability to misuse emergency orders; tighten Houston’s regulatory grip over the energy industry; get more money from state taxpayers; and crowd out low-income women and children in the state’s Medicaid program by adding more healthy, able-bodied adults to the system.
It’s wrong for city governments to participate in this kind of publicly funded advocacy. Lobbying is not a core function of government nor is it an appropriate use of public money. It’s a way for insiders to leverage personal relationships to expand government’s power, influence, and budgets—all at taxpayer expense.
Of course, there’s no problem with city officials educating legislators and staff on issues important to their districts. But cities cross a line when their employees’ activities move from education to advocacy, from sharing information to taking scalps. Texans expect their tax dollars to pay for police and potholes, not pressuring politicians.
There are enough forces aligned against freedom and liberty today. Houstonians don’t need another one to contend with, especially one that comes at their expense.