Texas Gov. Greg Abbott just announced that he’ll convene a second special session to begin at noon on Saturday, Aug. 7. The Governor’s call includes 17 separate agenda items, but at least one high-profile item seems to be missing—a ban on local governments using tax dollars to hire lobbyists.
The practice is one that’s long been disfavored among Texans of every political stripe, and it’s critical that the statehouse take action soon to stop taxpayer abuse and protect the democratic process.
For those unfamiliar with it, here’s how it works.
Local governments spend your tax money to hire contract lobbyists who advocate for pro-government positions. These hired guns almost always argue for higher taxes, more spending, and bigger government.
Consider Austin’s 2021 State Legislative Agenda, which spells out a number of different pro-government priorities that the city and its contract lobbyists sought over the course of the regular session. This list includes items like opposing lower taxes, stopping a local spending limit, and supporting more regulatory authority.
For Texans who find themselves opposite these publicly-funded advocates, they can find themselves at a great disadvantage. Professional lobbyists know how to work the system, whereas most people do not. Lobbyists also have friends, contacts, and access to resources that dominate what the average Texan has available.
If all of this sounds like a bit of a stretch, consider one recent real-life example.
In 2019, conservatives (again) attempted to reform Texas’ property tax system. Senate Bill 2 proposed giving the public the right to vote to approve or deny excessive tax increases. At the bill’s first hearing, 30 of the people who testified against the bill were publicly-funded lobbyists and those on the other side were mostly ordinary Texans asking for more opportunity to participate in their governance. Hence, taxpayers were effectively funding their opposition.
This is just one instance, too. The practice is actually quite ubiquitous. Consider that up to $41 million was spent by local governments to hire lobbyists in 2017. During the 87th legislative session, local governments reportedly spent almost $75 million on lobbying.
Once Texans become aware of this practice, they almost universally dislike it. In March 2020, a supermajority of Texas Republican primary voters supported a proposition to ban taxpayer funded lobbying. According to a poll conducted by WPA Intelligence in February 2021 of 800+ registered voters, 86% of Texans oppose the practice. The proposal to address taxpayer funded lobbying has been on the table prior to this session (HB 281, HB 433, HB 3680, HJR 86, SB 29, SB 702, SB 703, SB 906, SB 1592, SB 1614, and SB 2329), but a ban, or even substantial reform, has yet to come about.
With a second special session looming, Gov. Abbott has an immense opportunity to spotlight this issue and make a difference that taxpayers will welcome. Texas voters want transparency and to be fairly represented, and lawmakers have an obligation to enact legislation that does not go against the best interests of their constituents. Governments are using our money against us. This goes directly against the constitutional founding on the consent of the governed, not the will of the government.
With such critical items on the agenda, the governor would be remiss to disregard taxpayer funded lobbying. Placing a ban on this practice will be a conservative victory for the Lone Star state, but it must first be in the race to do so.