Last month, TPPF’s James Quintero testified before the House Committee on State Affairs in support of House Bill 749, a bill prohibiting political subdivisions from using tax dollars to hire registered lobbyists or to pay a nonprofit association that hires registered lobbyists. The bill is currently pending in committee.
Below are his prepared remarks delivered orally to the committee. Written testimony can be found here.
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee—
Good morning! My name is James Quintero and I’m a policy director at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. I’m here today to testify in strong support of House Bill 749.
Before I begin, I’d like to thank the bill author for fighting hard to right this incredible wrong. It’s been inspiring to watch. I also want to thank the people who are here on their own dime and on their own time. They understand what’s at stake.
With respect to the bill, there are several reasons to like it.
First, it takes a principled stand. On the question of whether governments should spend our money to lobby for their interests, the answer is a firm no.
Second, it would eliminate a pricey practice. The fact is local governments spend millions every year to employ registered lobbyists. According to our research, cities, counties, school districts, and special districts spent as much as $41 million on outside firms and individuals to lobby the legislature in 2017. That figure does not include public monies spent on in-house lobbyists or dues paid to membership associations, like the Texas Municipal League or the Texas Association of School Boards. It also does not include the cost of good legislation defeated or bad legislation.
Which brings my third point. The bill would greatly improve the quality of legislation. Under the status quo, taxpayer-funded lobbyists frequently fight against or derail common-sense reforms, which are oftentimes supported by the general public. One recent illustration of this behavior took place in 2019 with the fight over property tax reform. After SB 2 received its first committee hearing last session, I reviewed the witness list to discover that 100% of those providing oral testimony against the bill were local officials and publicly-funded lobbyists. And of those two groups, the lobbyists represented the lion’s share. On the other side of the bill stood mostly private citizens, trying to get some measure of reform through so they weren’t taxed out of their homes.
Fourth, the bill promises to give Texans their voices back. Here’s what I mean.
The First Amendment guarantees every citizen the right “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” This right is reserved for individuals, not for the government. Governments do not have rights, they have powers.
In spite of this constitutional guarantee, taxpayer-funded lobbying has become an obstacle for individuals seeking to exercise their right to petition their elected representatives. The system today allows the Capitol to be flooded with pro-government personalities who, intentionally or not, advocate in a way that drowns out the voices of everyday Texans. We need change if for no other reason than to let the average person be heard again.
Lastly, it’s needed because almost everyone wants it. Last month, the Foundation released a new poll of 800-plus registered voters, conducted by WPA Intelligence, that found almost 9 in 10 Texans oppose allowing tax dollars to fund lobbyists. These findings are not an anomaly and, in fact, mirror the results of other polls and surveys.
For all of these reasons, I ask that the committee look favorably on HB 749. Thank you for your time. I look forward to answering any questions that you may have.