Conroe, June 20 – At the Republican Party of Texas Convention this past Saturday, June 16, 2018, 8,500 Republican leaders voted to set as one of the top five legislative priorities for the 86th Texas Legislature the passage of a prohibition on taxpayer-funded lobbying. Specifically, the State GOP made a priority to “Pass legislation to abolish all forms of taxpayer-funded lobbying and end the automatic payroll deduction of union dues by the government.” At the same time, Republicans included in their 2018 Republican Party Platform a Plank which reiterates the opposition to taxpayer-funded lobbying: “We urge that the Texas Legislature enact legislation that prohibits tax-funded contract lobbying.”
Two taxpayer funded lobbying groups, the Texas Municipal League (TML), which serves city governments, and the Texas Association of Counties (TAC) are among the most influential lobbying groups every biennial legislative session in Austin. Fierce lobbying by TML and TAC helped to kill the proposed statewide reform of the Texas property tax system, which Senators Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) and Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) had co-authored. While their bill, Senate Bill 2, passed in the Texas Senate, it died in the Texas House of Representatives where liberals, under the leadership of Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, worked closely with TML and TAC against taxpayer interests.
In Montgomery County, on February 14, 2017, in a Commissioners Court meeting, Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack authored a resolution supporting the Bettencourt-Creighton legislative efforts to bring about meaningful property tax reform. During the discussion County Judge Craig Doyal tried to blame school districts for high government spending. Since the resolution, which Noack had authored, was nonbinding, it passed unanimously. Even Doyal and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley, who served on the Board of Directors of the Montgomery Central Appraisal District, voted in favor of the nonbonding resolution.
Ten days before Doyal openly supported property tax reform, he lobbied State Representative Mark Keough on February 7, 2017, to ask Keough to vote against the statewide property tax reform and to tell Keough that Doyal opposed a 20% homestead exemption in Montgomery County. Doyal’s lobbying on that one occasion and at a later meeting he attended with other state legislators in Austin during the 85th Legislative Session were on behalf of TAC.
Riley also appeared at the Texas State Capitol at least twice during the 85th Legislature to lobby for the pro-tax growth, pro-spending growth agenda of TAC, the ultraliberal lobbying group that works closely with the TML to support government growth and to oppose any limits on government spending and taxation. Riley met with state legislators on at least two separate days in Austin to urge them to follow the TAC pro-taxation platform and to oppose statewide property tax reform, especially Senate Bill 2, which would have limited property tax increases and enacted reforms of local appraisal districts. The two dates when Riley went to Austin to lobby for TAC were March 7, 2017, which was also Montgomery County Day at the Capitol, and a date during the first two weeks of April, 2017, although the three legislative staff members who provided information for this story, under condition of anonymity, were unable to ascertain the exact second date while recalling Riley was there for TAC’s pro-tax agenda.
Riley has fought for including TAC’s hefty annual dues as spending initiatives with the Montgomery County government budget which taxpayers are forced to bear.
The Montgomery County government’s budget includes annual dues of $2,440 to TAC, an anti-citizen, pro-taxation, pro-government-spending lobbying and special interest group that is vociferously fighting taxation and spending reform. The individual County Department budgets include additional funds for TAC. The Golden Hammer has confirmed that just during calendar year 2018, the Montgomery County government has spent $6,395 of taxpayer funds for individual members dues as well as the countywide dues payment.
During the 85th Legislative Session, TAC’s large lobbying team, which included Riley, took the following positions:
- Strong opposition to Senate Bill 2, the comprehensive property tax reform and appraisal district reform bill, which Bettencourt and others passed in the Senate but are finding has strong opposition from the more liberal Texas House of Representatives.
- Strong support of legislation that will make it easier for county governments to engage in eminent domain, also known as government takings of private property.
- Opposition to certain County jail reform proposals.
- Strong support for more state government spending on health programs.
- Opposition to revenue cap bills, as TAC and its members don’t want any limitations on the ability of county governments to increase local government spending and taxation.
- Claiming that making it easier for citizens to obtain tax refunds would “create a budgeting problem for counties,” so TAC opposed Senator and former Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt’s proposed legislation, Senate Bill 1847, which would aid in that process.
- Opposition to Representative Cecil Bell, Jr.’s (R-Magnolia) bill, House Bill 3170, relating to protection of rights of a property owner in eminent domain proceedings.
- Oppositions on any limitations upon the amount of debt county governments may incur.
- Opposition to legislation to require more local government openness and transparency.
TAC and TML have also joined in the criminal defense of Doyal and Riley before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals by filing a “friend of the court” brief asking the Court to declare the Texas Open Meetings Act unconstitutional. In that instance, TAC, TML, Doyal, and Riley are fighting directly against the interests of the people of Texas, the Special Prosecutor, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.
TAC’s and Riley’s duplicity on all of these issues that directly impact the amount of taxes that Montgomery County citizens must pay reveal why it is so important for taxpayer-funded lobbying to end in Texas.