KCBD INVESTIGATES: Are your tax dollars lobbying against you?

LUBBOCK COUNTY, TX (KCBD) - They lobby the Texas Legislature, supported by your tax dollars. So, how do you know if your money is going toward what is in your best interest?

The KCBD investigates team has discovered that last year, Lubbock County spent $127,000 in dues and membership fees.

"Those dues go to organizations like the county district clerks association, treasurers association, county judge, county commissioners association that provide us training to meet what the law says we shall do," said Lubbock County Commissioner Pct. 1, Bill McCay.

McCay said it is money well spent because commissioners need to be aware of what legislation affects the county and the county budget.

"Two years ago there were 6,000 bills that passed so, we know that about 2,000 of those had some change or effect on Lubbock County," McCay said.

McCay emphasized the value of adequate training for county officials and department heads.

"How can they maximize those employees to do more with less?" McCay asked.

The largest of the organizations the county supports with your tax dollars is the Texas Association of Counties. It's a $42 million taxpayer-supported nonprofit.

So, does T.A.C. lobby the legislature?

"I can't answer that. You'd have to talk to the organizations," McCay said.

Records we obtained show that Lubbock County paid T.A.C. $578,000 in fiscal year 2014. That money pays for insurance, training, dues, and at least one other thing.

We asked Commissioner McCay if it would surprise him to know that taxpayer-funded T.A.C. paid 16 lobbyists in 2013.

"I know they have folks that communicate with state agencies and communicate with members of the legislature. I know they do," McCay said.

And do those lobbyists take positions for or against legislation? Sometimes positions that may be contrary to taxpayer interests?

"And they do in terms of the impact it's going to have on the citizens. It's not a position of like or don't like," McCay said.

We went to Austin where taxpayer-supported lobbying has the attention of at least one state representative.

District 66 State Representative Matt Shaheen said, "We'll see a number of instances where the associations are at odds with the taxpayers whether it's things like tax increases or transparency so it's often we'll see there's a conflict between the taxpayer and those associations."

Shaheen, who represents parts of Plano and Dallas, filed House Bill 1257 which would prohibit taxpayer-supported lobbying.

"The House bill is important because what it does is to restrict political subdivisions from using taxpayer funds to hire lobbyists who lobby the legislature. We feel it would be good to disconnect using taxpayer funds for an entity to lobby the legislature. In some cases it could be at odds with the interests of the taxpayers," Shaheen said.

Lobbying against revenue caps that would save taxpayer dollars against legislation proposing increased transparency, and against appraisal caps that would restrict appraisal increases.

And what do they think of Representative Shaheen's bill to outlaw taxpayer funded lobbying?

"All the organizations have taken positions against the bill. Their preference is to allow the political subdivisions, local governments, to use those taxpayer dollars to hire lobbyists so that they can lobby and have their interests reflected with the legislature," Shaheen said.

Taxpayer-funded lobbyists taking positions many consider at odds with what is best for taxpayers.

PDF: Indigent Defense in Texas

Copyright 2015 KCBD. All rights reserved.