News88th TXLege

Legislation Seeking to Ban Taxpayer-funded Lobbying Gets Hearing in Senate

March 14, 2023
Jeramy Kitchen
88th Legislative Session, Mayes Middleton, Spending, Taxpayer-Funded Lobbying, Texas Prosperity Plan

On Monday, the Texas Senate State Affairs Committee considered legislation seeking to ban the practice of taxpayer-funded lobbying statewide. Though the legislation was left pending, it is likely to be passed out of committee and considered by the overall Senate before being sent to the Texas House of Representatives.

The legislation, Senate Bill 175, is authored by TFR Taxpayer Champion and State Sen. Mayes Middleton (R-Galveston). He has filed this legislation in previous legislative sessions, when he served as a state representative, with its prospects always being cut short in the lower chamber.

To the chagrin of Texas taxpayers, recent reporting has indicated that the amount spent by local governments on the practice of taxpayer-funded lobbying is increasing and the problem persists.

Notably, the Republican Party of Texas had previously named banning the practice as one of its legislative priorities in recent cycles, and support for the ban remains in its 2022 party platform. Moreover, a ballot proposition included in the 2020 Republican primary election found that almost 95% of Republican voters support the ban. A 2019 poll conducted by WFAA and the Texas Public Policy Foundation discovered that nearly nine of every 10 Texans supported a ban on the practice. Beyond just Republicans, a University of Texas and Texas Tribune poll found that the issue of a ban had the support of 69% of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents.

Given that the Texas Legislature is controlled by a majority of Republicans, one would think there would be no issue instituting the ban; history, however, shows otherwise.

Notable Testimony

Of the several people who gave public testimony on Senate Bill 175, many included details from their own experiences with taxpayer-funded lobbyists, going as far as to chide organizations like the Texas Municipal League (TML) and the Texas Association of Counties (TAC), which are largely comprised of local elected officials who pay dues comprised of taxpayer money.

One of those who testified was Galveston County Treasurer Hank Dugie, who ran for election on a platform of eliminating the very office to which he was elected. As a part of his testimony, he recounted what he considered the “nefarious activity” of taxpayer-funded lobbyists.

Dugie is not alone in his disdain for such practices. Several of those who testified expressed similar sentiments. Clear Creek ISD Trustee At-Large Scott Bowen mentioned his disagreement with the efforts of TASB (Texas Association of School Boards) in many of their activities whereby they lobby against the interests of taxpayers.

So, What Are Its Prospects?

The short answer is that it is too early to tell, but unless previous convictions in the Texas House of Representatives have changed, it looks like an uphill battle.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has previously indicated his support for banning the practice as well. The last time he opined on the issue, however, was when he first ran for governor in 2013 (unless you count a 2020 tweet in which he admonished the city of Austin).

Legislation seeking to ban the practice has passed the Senate for the last few legislative sessions with the support and prioritization of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), though his efforts have been stifled in the lower chamber.

The main culprit for the ban’s demise last legislative session was former State Rep. Chris Paddie (R-Marshall), who was the chairman of the House State Affairs Committee. He gutted the bill as passed by the Senate and inserted loopholes before ultimately delaying consideration of the bill on the House floor beyond a key deadline, ending its prospects.

This legislative session, that same committee is chaired by State Rep. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi), who voted against a ban on the practice in 2019 as a member of the committee. In 2019 that committee was chaired by current Speaker of the House Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont), who had also signed on as a joint author of legislation seeking to ban the practice. Notably, Phelan did not name the issue as one of his legislative priorities in the last legislative session or the ongoing session.

This session, companion legislation to Middleton’s bill (House Bill 3538) was filed by State Rep. Ellen Troxclair (R-Spicewood), though it has not currently been referred to a House committee.

What Is Next?

It is likely the legislation will be voted on by the Senate State Affairs Committee in the next few days and then be put on the Senate Intent Calendar, where it will be deliberated by the overall Senate shortly thereafter.

Texans for Fiscal Responsibility has long been opposed to the practice of taxpayer-funded lobbying and considers it immoral and a severe conflict of interest. It is one of the reasons we added the banning of taxpayer-funded lobbying to our Texas Prosperity Plan and as an official legislative priority, as it is a policy that would easily help curb runaway spending on the local government level.

Concerned taxpayers may contact their lawmaker here.

Texans for Fiscal Responsibility relies on the support of private donors across the Lone Star State in order to promote fiscal responsibility and pro-taxpayer government in Texas. Please consider supporting our efforts! Thank you!

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