One person’s advocate is another’s influence peddler.
Those diametrically opposed views on public-sector lobbying are held at opposite ends by the Terrell City Council and by its Senate representative in Austin, District 2 Sen. Bob Hall. The Republican from Edgewood filed a bill this session to ban the use of taxpayers’ dollars to pay lobbyists.
“Governmental entities are using taxpayer money to influence legislation to their advantage by hiring lobbyists and lobby firms to peddle their opinions about bills and influence legislators,” Hall states as a reason for filing the legislation. “Taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for lobbying that advocates against their interest, such as cities lobbying against bills that could lead to lower taxes. Taxpayers should not have to pay for influencing legislators about a cause they don’t support.”
Hall filed similar legislation during last session, but it failed in the House 58-85-2 in bipartisan fashion.
The Terrell City Council on Tuesday passed a resolution opposed to Hall’s bill, which states the council opposes “any attempt to limit or prohibit the authority of city, county, and/or school district officials to use public funds to communicate with legislators and state agencies, as well as to pay membership dues to organizations that hire lobbyists.”
The city of Terrell pays membership dues to the Texas Municipal League (TML), which, among other provided services, represents the interests of 1,161 Texas cities, big and small, in the Legislature.
Hall’s new bill was roundly criticized at Tuesday night’s council meeting. City Manager Mike Sims called it the “don’t let cities talk to Austin bill.”
A memorandum by city consultant John Godwin called Hall’s proposal “a clear attempt by some to limit input from Texas cities to the state Legislature.”
Elected city leaders use a variety of means to convey their positions to the Legislature, which is important because “the Legislature is fond of passing unfunded mandates to cities. If a state senator brags about getting something done it is often because he passed a state law or directed the eventual passage of a state regulation that raises the costs of local governments,” the memo states.
“The notion is that TML member cities are spending taxpayer dollars to support and oppose issue positions not always supported by all of their citizens. That is of course true—but no political entities have 100% agreement from their electorate. That is how representative government works,” stated Godwin.
Hall argues that his bill would not prevent locally elected officials from coming to Austin to share their views on legislation.
“That local perspective is valuable when making public policy. However, the value is lost on me when I know that your tax dollars are being used in an attempt to convince me to side with a government entity over the taxpayer. I and all legislators are elected to protect taxpayers and to be fiscally responsible,” said Hall.
Godwin, a former city manager of Paris and former assistant city manager of Rockwall, said Hall’s bill is anything but fiscally responsible. It “would increase the cost to Terrell taxpayers of monitoring and assuring compliance with the state Legislature from $3,487 to $160,000.”
“That’s a huge jump for the city of Terrell to have to come up with in order to have a voice or have someone to speak on our behalf,” said Mayor Rick Carmona, who added, “It just makes good sense and good policy for us to have someone for us in Austin informing us of changes and/or things that might change that might affect us moving forward, whether it’s annexation or any number of issues that we face on a regular basis.”
Other legislative issues supported by the city council include:
- Support equity for communities with Historically Black Colleges and Universities with a population of less than 50,000 with an option for a 9% Hotel Occupancy Tax rate.
- Developing plans and resources needed for greater broadband connectivity to enhance access to public education, healthcare, employment, news, and information.
- Maintain all economic development tools available, reauthorizing Chapter 313 to enable Texas the ability to compete for major capital-intensive projects, fund the Texas Enterprise Fund, Event Trust Fund, Texas Tourism, the Texas Music Office, and the Texas Film Commission at levels that keep Texas competitive with other states.
- Require governors’ emergency orders to be approved by the Legislature after 30 days.
- Rollback or at least make no further changes to growth management legislation (building materials, ETJ, zoning, city limits).
- Maintain funding for Texas Department of Transportation.