BONHAM — Fannin County’s Commissioners’ Court will voice opposition to state Senate Bill 234 and Texas House Bill 749, bills introduced into the 87th Legislature that seek to prohibit or restrict the use of public funds by political subdivisions for collective legislative communication, otherwise known as lobbying.
“These bills would require all county officials to separately analyze and communicate with the legislature on all 7,000 bills without the benefit of a collective voice through our association,” states a letter to be signed by the commissioners and County Judge Randy Moore.
The bills, submitted by Sen. Bob Hall and Rep. Mayes Middleton, both Republicans, may garner more support this year than in years past. Similar bills in the last session passed the state Senate, but fell short in the House, however, that may change since the House has a new speaker, Republican Rep. Dade Phelan. A December article by Forbes noted that Phelan is a supporter of Middleton’s bill.
If the bills make it to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk, he’s likely to sign them. In a Nov. 28, 2020, tweet, Abbott said the City of Austin shouldn’t “even try to defend taxpayer-funded lobbying.”
“It is indefensible that you tax residents to get money that you use to hire lobbyists to support legislation to allow you to tax even more,” Abbott tweeted.
However, Moore and the commissioners contend that affected nonprofit associations, such as the Texas Association of Counties, save taxpayer dollars, especially in rural counties like Fannin County.
“TAC provides needed and mandatory training, legal support, insurance, human resources and a variety of other supportive actions that allows our county to function well for our citizens,” the county’s letter states. “The services provided by TAC to Fannin County save us several hundred thousand dollars.”
Fannin County Clerk Tammy Biggar said the public may not know that local officials advocate keeping costs down, and one of the lobbyists’ jobs is to notify local officials when something potentially detrimental is introduced in the Legislature.
“So I speak on behalf of the rural counties, that I depend on the lobbyists, which I use through the Texas Association of Elected Administrators, so I can keep up on the elections side, but use it on the county district clerk side,” Biggar said. “I think that what the public hears and what comes across from the news is that lobbyists is used against them. I think what is helpful to understand is we use them as a great benefit to us. They’re advisors to us, and they do a great benefit for the county, particularly at the local level.”
The letter also voices support for Rep. Hugh Shrine’s House Joint Resolution 32, which proposes a constitutional amendment to restrict the Legislature from mandating requirements on a municipality or county without providing funding.
“Just last year we were state mandated to give one elected official a $24,000 raise. These types of mandates, along with the reduction in revenue from SB 2, have a tremendous negative affect on our small county,” the letter states.
Senate Bill 2, known as the Texas Property Tax Reform and Transparency Act of 2019, lowered the tax rate a taxing authority can adopt without voter approval. Municipal officials repeatedly said the 3.5% election trigger will hamstring their budgets and hamper their ability to provide public safety and other local services, The Texas Tribune reported when Abbott signed the bill.