The Senate State Affairs Committee met Tuesday, December 8, 2020, to hear invited testimony only on the interim charge that seeks to censor local governmental entities from having a voice at the Texas Capitol.
The first to testify was James Quintero with the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF). Quintero refers to advocacy efforts by local governments as “taxpayer-funded lobbying” and says that the Legislature should ban the practice, which occurs in three ways: (1) hiring outside lobbyists, (2) having in-house intergovernmental relations employees, and (3) through membership organizations that collect fees to support advocacy efforts. Overall, Quintero said these organizations do not benefit local taxpayers or represent their interests at the Capitol.
When pressed by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., about the overall expenditure by the city of Houston on advocacy efforts, Quintero admitted that it was a very small percentage of the city’s overall budget. Sen. Bob Hall agreed with Quintero that local taxpayers are harmed by these groups and that the state is there to protect the people from the local and federal governments.
Sen. Brian Birdwell asked Quintero if TPPF viewed the state funding the Office of State and Federal Relations, which lobbies on behalf of the state of Texas in Washington D.C., as similar. Quintero replied that TPPF is focused only on local government advocacy efforts. Birdwell also questioned if the legislation TPPF proposes would apply to state agencies and whether this issue would become a rural versus urban battle.
Tom Forbes with the Professional Advocacy Association of Texas (PAAT) testified that local governmental entities are complex organizations and need to be represented by experts in Austin. He said he supports a strong system of lobby registration and reporting for the public. Forbes also stated that local governments, which are closest to their constituents, will be replaced by voters if they are not representing them well.
Collin County Judge Chris Hill testified in support of a ban and said there is a flaw with “taxpayer-funded lobbying” as it forces some taxpayers to advance positions they oppose.
Grand Prairie Mayor Ron Jensen testified in opposition to a ban on such advocacy efforts and noted that his office has hired lobbyists and consultants in the past to navigate legislative sessions and to participate in conversations at the state and federal levels about how measures impact his constituents. Jensen said his community members expect his office to have experts to represent their interests. He added that efforts to ban such efforts are not meant to protect taxpayers but to silence them.
Read the letter TASA and other education organizations sent to the committee in advance of the meeting that urges preservation of our members’ representation at the Capitol.