Saturday, July 1, 2017

Smith County politicians want "local control" when it comes to raising taxes; Taxpayer funded lobbying


Ah, the special session...

Thanks to this so-called "Freedom Caucus" (of which our very own Matt Schaefer is a member) in the Texas House, our legislature will go into special session this year.  Votes on a number of important bills were blocked and will not see the light of day until the next legislative session, if ever.  By the way, one such bill would have saved taxpayers millions of dollars in jail expenses and law enforcement resources by eliminating arrests and jail time for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

But that's off-topic.  Take a look at this article in yesterday's Telegraph: Tyler, Smith County leaders concerned over local control issues in Texas Legislature special session

Taxpayer-funded lobbying?


Good reporting by Faith Harper in that she brought up something that most sheeple don't know about:  Some lobbyists in Austin are funded by taxpayers!  Yup, that's right.  Some of the lobbying (All of which should be illegal in my opinion.) going on at the capital is paid for by local governments, Tyler and Smith County included.
Tyler engaged a lobbying firm, Focused Advocacy, to help in the regular session, and that service will continue to the special session.  
The firm has begun pulling data to help tell the city’s concerns over proposed regulations, and what is sees as the best ways to resolve issues.  
“We will work with (the firm) to see what information the House and the Senate need and the points we need to provide to them to help with their arguments to not move forward with much of this state-mandated regulation.”  
[Smith County Judge Nathaniel] Moran said the county is leaning on the Texas Association of Counties and Texas Conference of Urban Counties.
I'll focus on Smith County's government here, because it's motivation for such wangling is what concerns me most.  The Texas association of Counties and the Texas Conference of Urban Counties are both organizations that are funded by dues from their member county governments and employ lobbying groups to represent them in the legislature.*

They want to be able to raise taxes without voter approval.

There are several pieces of legislation on the table here that have to do with "local control."  One is a measure that would require county or municipal governments to have direct voter approval to raise taxes by more than 4 percent.  This is one that is really causing some sphincter-puckering down at the County Annex building.  But why?  Smith County's tax rate has been among the lowest in the state.  "Keep taxes low" is the mantra that every county judge and county commissioner has been chanting for as long as we can remember.  Is it even remotely possible that they may want to enact a big jump in taxes and therefore such a restriction would cramp their style?  Surely not.
Oh, but think again.  For almost a decade under former County Judge Joel Baker, the commissioners court has neglected the county's roads and bridges, choosing instead to spend millions of dollars on less important capital improvements in downtown Tyler.  And now those chickens have come home to roost, and it looks like it will cost $84 million to $124 million just to bring our existing road system up to acceptable standards.  Three of the commissioners who have supported this stupidity--Cary Nix, JoAnn Hampton, and Jeff Warr--are still in office.
The "Three Stooges" of Smith County
(Commissioner Cary Nix)

(Commissioner JoAnn Hampton)

(Commissioner Jeff Warr)

How in the Sam Hill are we going to pay for this?  Let's do the math.  For simplicity, I'll round off that cost to approximately $100 million.  Let's say we try to get the roads into shape within the next ten years.  That means the commissioners court is somehow going to have to find an additional $10 million per year, which is a little more than ten percent of the current budget, that currently hovers around $90 million.  So far, they have been pulling funds out of the "rainy day" fund, but that can't continue.  These people are not going to be inclined to cut spending for the district attorney, incarceration costs, or the downtown bureaucracy.  They like to buy votes from county employees by increasing their salaries every four years or so.  So they are either going to have to severely cut services to county residents or raise taxes if they go through with their "comprehensive road plan." (Which has YET to materialize.)
Not to be forgotten:  "Shemp"
Okay, let's say this legislation passes.  Then the clownishioners figure out that they are going to have to raise taxes by 5 percent to make substantial progress on getting the roads back in shape.  Hey it has to be done, so I'd vote for such a tax increase, as long as every penny of the increased revenue was dedicated to fixing roads and bridges.  But let's say they try to throw in some other spending increases, like even more expansion and improvement of their little downtown Smith County Kremlin.  Then county residents could vote down the tax increase and send the clownishioners asses back to the drawing board until they came up with a budget that met the county's actual needs!
The take-home message, sheeple, is PAY ATTENTION!  (Oh, yeah--and VOTE THE BUMS OUT!)

*A 2008 court ruling prohibits the Texas Association of Counties from spending "general fund" revenues, e.g. taxpayer-funded dues on lobbying.  But it still pays lobbyists with revenue derived from other sources such as funding from private interests.  Scary.

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