Last month, TPPF’s James Quintero testified before the Senate Committee on Local Government in support of Senate Bill 252, a bill that criminalizes the use of tax dollars to store or refurbish nongovernmental personal property that do not provide public benefit. This bill is currently pending in committee.
Below are Quintero’s prepared remarks delivered orally to the committee. Written testimony can be found here.
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee—
Good afternoon! My name is James Quintero and I am a policy director at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. I am here to testify in support of Senate Bill 252.
At its core, SB 252 is about restoring public trust. Recent controversy in Harris County necessitates a legislative response to regain the community’s confidence in the system.
As you may know, in mid-February of last year, KPRC Investigates uncovered the use of taxpayer facilities and funds being used to profit private persons without public benefit. More specifically, the investigative team discovered that a 5,000-square ft. facility owned by Harris County taxpayers had been used to house more than 1,200 pieces of African art—free of charge.
Or at least free for the art collector. The cost to taxpayers was actually quite substantial.
According to the Houston Chronicle, Precinct 1 has spent “…$220,000 on upgrades to the warehouse between May 2018 and January 2020…These included a new roof, front door, thermal protection and a new access gate.”
County taxpayers also spent $16,000 to move the private art collection to the warehouse.
The Chronicle also notes that “similar accommodations” would have cost someone not receiving special treatment between $12,000 and $16,000 per month.
All told, several hundred thousand dollars have been spent to benefit this private art collection, with the public deriving no benefit from it.
This troubling instance is part of a larger pattern of misbehavior. As you’ll note on pg. 11 of your handout, Harris County taxpayers have been laboring under an onerous and fast-growing tax burden for some time now. From 2014 to 2018, property taxes levied by Harris County outgrew population and inflation by almost 3-to-1.
Texans deserve stronger protections to ensure that their tax dollars are going toward public needs, not private benefits. For that reason, I encourage the committee to vote favorably on SB 252.
Thank you for your time. I look forward to answering any questions that you may have.