Other Voices

Sen. Burton is right to shun lobbyists paid with tax money

State Sen. Konni Burton, R-Fort Worth, has gotten some attention for her decision not to meet with taxpayer-funded lobbyists.

She clearly ruffled some feathers. And for that, many citizens are praising her. I am among them.

But it appears that former Arlington Mayor Richard Greene is someone whose feathers got ruffled.

The former mayor wrote an opinion piece in the Star-Telegram in which he said that local government’s “mission is clear: defend and protect their citizens’ rights in pursuing a higher quality of life as they themselves define it.”

He continued: “Those unpaid local officials have neither the experience nor time it takes to keep up…” with what is happening at the state Capitol.

Actually, Arlington’s mayor and City Council members do get paid, as do most county commissioners.

Whether they are paid or not isn’t the issue. If local officials aren’t willing to do what it takes to represent their constituents, they should not run for office.

Candidates ask the public to “hire” them. Representing their constituents before other elected bodies is just part of the job.

As former Arlington mayor, Greene has a record to defend.

Currently, Arlington has four hired lobbyists who make as much as $80,000.

And I will assume that Arlington is also one of the 1,145 cities that pay dues to the Texas Municipal League.

But taxpayers there are paying more lobbyists. Arlington ISD has nine registered lobbyists making as much as $105,000.

Add the dues Arlington taxing entities pay to associations, and the money continues to mount up.

The Republican Party platform has taken a position opposed to taxpayer-funded lobbying.

Moreover, when citizens learn of their tax dollars being used to lobby — sometimes against taxpayer interests — they are outraged.

We elect our officials to work together at the city, county, school district, state and federal level. Elected officials should be discussing issues of interest to their constituents and solving problems together.

Paying lobbyists to intercede on behalf of elected officials distorts the representative process and eliminates any accountability that officials have to the people they represent.

Burton has not only taken a stand to work with local officials rather than with their lobbyists but she has filed legislation to protect taxpayers.

She has filed in the Senate a bill that Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, filed in the House. It would prohibit tax dollars being used to lobby either by taxing entities or their associations.

For local officials who bemoan that they can’t keep up with legislation, they should remember one thing: Taxpayers should not worry that while they are busy earning a living, taking care of their families and paying their taxes, some of their taxes might be used to lobby against them.

Local officials have responsibility to be working on behalf of their constituents. Associations can play the roll of reading legislation and providing analysis and updates to their membership.

But it is the local officials who should be communicating and working on behalf of the voters who put them in office.

Peggy Venable is senior policy fellow for Americans for Prosperity and policy director for the Texas chapter.