The Senate Committee on Local Government met Tuesday to hear testimony on four of its assigned interim charges. The committee heard invited and public testimony on affordable housing, extraterritorial jurisdictions, special purpose districts and taxpayer-funded lobbying. The lobbying charge builds on the Legislature’s passage of transparency requirements and contemplation of a ban on taxpayer-funded lobbying in recent sessions.
Chairman Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) called first on a representative of the Texas Ethics Commission, who discussed the statutory requirements of who is required to register with the commission as a lobbyist.
Next up was a representative of the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), an Austin-based conservative advocacy organization. TPPF has pushed for a complete ban on the use of taxpayer dollars to compensate anyone required to register as a lobbyist with the Texas Ethics Commission. Its spokesperson praised the Legislature’s passage of legislation requiring local governments to publicly disclose all lobbying expenditures and talked about TPPF’s support for a comprehensive prohibition on the use of taxpayer funds for professional lobby services.
Third to testify was a Harris County resident, who first learned of the push to forbid public funding of lobbying efforts from Americans for Prosperity, a Washington, D.C.-area advocacy group. She supported the interim charge and called for increased transparency.
Fourth to testify was a former Travis County Auditor, who supported a prohibition on lobbying against property tax reductions, but she urged the committee to consider that more narrow restriction rather than a complete ban. She pointed to her experience with the Texas Association of Counties, whose role she described as very useful in familiarizing counties with one another, for coordinating the various county functions, and for the educational services it provides. She urged the committee to preserve the ability of counties to pay member dues to associations such as TAC.
The final witness was a representative of the city of Houston, who presented examples of the value returned to the city from its lobbying contracts. The Legislature’s work ended a stalemate in local negotiations between the city and its firefighters union. The legislation was highly contested and complex, running into hundreds of pages, but it has since reduced the city’s unfunded liability to the firefighters pension fund by billions. The city’s contracts for those and other efforts are prominently displayed on its website, and he reported that to his knowledge no member of the public had ever testified in opposition to those contracts before the Harris County Commissioners Court.
The committee will issue a report to the 88th Legislature with its findings at a later date. The full hearing may be viewed online here. Discussion of taxpayer-funded lobbying begins around the 3:30 mark.
For more information about this article, please contact Pete Winckler.