As the start of the legislative session draws near, various entities gird for battle.
Much like corporations, Texas cities and counties plan to spend millions on lobbyists to push their agendas and protect their interests during the next legislative session.
When the lawmakers convene in Austin next month, the city of Houston and Harris County, for example, will have more than a dozen hired guns to help track bills that might affect their operations.
They are among a group of the state’s largest cities and counties that have hired at least 42 individual lobbyists or firms, costing about $3 million, records show. Officials say it is money well-spent, given that lawmakers could file more than 1,000 bills affecting local governments’ revenue, rules and residents.
“Cities are essentially regulated industries, just like companies,” said John Hrncir, governmental relations director in Austin, which hired 10 lobbyists for more than $800,000. “Virtually everything a city does … can be impacted by the state Legislature.”
Though officials in Dallas and Tarrant counties do not plan to hire outside lobbyists, Travis, Bexar and Harris counties have contracts worth more than $600,000 with at least six firms.
“Counties are administrative units of the state. There is nothing that a county can do without the approval of the Legislature,” said Deece Eckstein, intergovernmental relations coordinator for Travis County.
The list of issues local governments must monitor during the session is long, including bills that affect unions, land use, public safety, liability, utilities, transportation funding and control, taxes and criminal justice issues.
The city of Houston plans to spend roughly $500,000 this fiscal year on the state level, hiring Johnson & Johnson, of Austin, to manage nine lobbyists.
I’ve discussed this question before. I don’t see anything wrong with this practice, since there’s nobody in either chamber of the Legislature who is there specifically to represent a given city, or for the most part a given county. That differentiates it from the Congress, where each state has two Senators to represent its particular needs. Like it or not, lobbying is the most effective way for cities and counties to protect their interests. I wouldn’t call that optimal or even necessarily desirable, but it’s what we’ve got.