The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
Conroe, March 10 – On Tuesday, March 8, 2022, the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District (LSGCD) Board of Directors voted unanimously to disavow the Republican Party’s principled opposition to taxpayer-funded lobbying and to hire two law firms as lobbyists at a price to Montgomery County taxpayers of just under $10,000 per month to begin April 1 through the end of the 88th Legislature, which will begin in January, 2023. The high-priced lobbyists will cost County taxpayers approximately $150,000, if not considerably more.
Board President Harry Hardman tried to posit, “These two firms include consultants who are lawyers and, therefore, held to the highest ethical standards.”
Hardman said, “Water policy is highly complex…We need a strong presence advocating for our issues with our legislators…Our recommendation is solely to amplify the voices of our residents.” Some residents greatly oppose the policies of LSGCD, while some support them. It’s unclear which voices the LSGCD intends to amplify. Perhaps, LSGCD hired two lobbying firms to take both sides of each issue.
The Republican Party of Texas has long expressed opposition to taxpayer-funded lobbying in its Party Platform. Furthermore, conservative Republican activists have established banning taxpayer-funded lobbying as a Legislative Priority.
Four years ago, the LSGCD Board turned down a taxpayer-funded lobbying proposal on principle. Nevertheless, LSGCD Director Jon Bouche expressed on Tuesday that LSGCD apparently was not yet “ready” to hire taxpayer-funded lobbyists three years ago, but now he feels that the Board has moved past the necessary threshold to do so.
Bouche said, “When we started talking about a legislative consultant a few years ago, I spoke out against it, because I didn’t think were were ready at the time…But we’ve done a lot of work that we need to strongly consider this at this time.” That, of course, is a frightening argument, suggesting that working on a proposal to hire taxpayer-funded lobbyists necessarily means that the making of the proposal is a fait accompli.
Bouche continued, “It’s not that anyone on this board has changed their position on any of this stuff…Other parties have 21 lobbyists working for them…We need it at this time…I would have a difficult time looking my constituents in the eye and saying that, as a member of the Republican Party that’s against taxpayer-funded lobbying, I stuck to my principles but your bill tripled. That would not make me feel good to do. I think it’s the wrong thing to do…Eliminating taxpayer-funded lobbying has allegedly been a priority of the Republican-led House and Senate in Austin for a while, and it’s not getting done. It needs to get done. I’m happy to go testify to eliminate taxpayer-funded lobbying. Up until that game changes, I’m supporting this proposal.”
Interestingly, there was no discussion whatsoever to support Bouche’s suggestion that water bills would “triple,” if LSGCD didn’t spend $150,000 on hiring a bunch of lawyers to lobby for the Board in Austin. Bouche failed to explain why LSGCD needs to hire these legislative combatants for almost an entire year prior to the beginning of the legislative session.
Of course, the decision to hire the lobbyists begs the question for what will the lobbyists lobby. Will they lobby for more groundwater regulation? Will they lobby for higher regulatory fees? Will they lobby for more restrictive permits, less restrictive permits, or for both? Will they lobby for allowing LSGCD to spend more tax dollars on community “education”? Will they lobby for allowing LSGCD to impose property taxes in order to increase “revenues”?
Director Stuart Traylor said, “As long as the opposition has lobbyists in Austin, we’re fools for not having them.” Was the “opposition” to whom Traylor referred the County taxpayers who want taxes to decrease? Sadly, the “opposition” is likely other entities to whom Montgomery County taxpayers pay taxes, so that local taxpayers will most assuredly now fund both side of almost every water regulation issue, which the Texas Legislature considers. That raises the question, did Montgomery County voters really elect this Board to spend our tax dollars fighting with other duly-constituted governmental entities?
Of course, another major question is why the Board members themselves, several of whom are retired from their careers, cannot lobby, especially since taxpayers already pay them to perform their duties. Elected officials lobbying in Austin usually receive far more credence than do regular paid lobbyists, as legislators most assuredly recognize the difference.
One issue which has drawn substantial criticism of LSGCD’s Board members is whether they should issue groundwater regulations to prevent subsidence. On occasions, large swaths of members of the community have come to the Board to ask that they issue more restrictive groundwater regulations to prevent community subsidence and flooding. LSGCD’s recent regulations ignore the subsidence issue as a component of groundwater regulation. Amplifying the “voice” of the community would seem to lead LSGCD to direct its lobbyists to lobby directly against current Board policy.
Director Larry Rogers said, “As all the other directors have said, I think we’re all against funded legislatures. I think you have to look at what’s involved now. Times have changed. We definitely have a need at this time. I think that’s pretty obvious.”
The vote was unanimous against conservative and Republican principles by all seven Board members:
- Harry Hardman
- Jon Bouche
- Jonathan Prykryl
- Jim Spigener
- Larry Rogers
- Janice Thigpen
- Stuart Traylor.