With financial concerns evident for many municipal departments, there is simply no good excuse for the City of Amarillo to continue expending taxpayer dollars to lobby to the Texas Legislature.
Last week, during the Amarillo City Council’s regular meeting, city manager Jared Miller provided updates to Councilmembers on the “legislative agenda” for the upcoming year. Topping this year’s agenda is the proposed Texas Tech veterinary school and additional funding for the Texas Department of Transportation.
“We took a lot of input from all of our different directors…they submitted all of their input to us and we’ve distilled that down to a manageable list of legislative agenda items that we can use when we talk to state representatives and state senators in our conversations with them, as we want to make sure they understand our perspective on different items,” Miller said.
City Councilmembers voting to set a legislative agenda is nothing new and has been ongoing for many years in Amarillo. What is extremely disappointing, however, is the way tax dollars are used to advocate for these items.
According to filings with the Texas Ethics Commission, the City of Amarillo employed five different lobbyists during the 2017 legislative session. State law does not require the lobbyists to disclose their received payments, but in the values they did submit, it appears taxpayers footed the bill for upwards of $165,000 in lobbying fees. And, even at a time where there is no ongoing legislative session, seven lobbyists report employment by the City of Amarillo, with six already listed as “paid” for the year. And, as it stands today, the City of Amarillo is employing a larger number of lobbyists than the cities of Lubbock, El Paso, and even Dallas.
This $165,000, while a rough estimate, does provide an idea of just exactly how much taxpayers had to spend to employ lobbyists to do the City Council’s bidding. Earlier this year, we heard Jared Miller claim $7,000 could not be found to provide security for the Tri-State Fair parade. Other community organizations have also been the target of cuts, as the City of Amarillo continues to blow money on certain events, while cutting off others. There are other places this money could be used, as well. How about spending this money on fixing problems at Animal Management & Welfare, or spending the money repairing the Civic Center, or maybe on road repairs. There are many options if the City of Amarillo was actually committed to serving the people’s best interests. They don’t appear to be, though.
So, since Jared Miller was so willing to pull the government support for the Tri-State Fair parade and wait for the private sector to rescue it, I think he should do the same thing for lobbying. It should not be the City of Amarillo’s place to lobby the Texas Legislature. Let private organizations take the charge on advocacy, while the City stays focused on spending tax dollars on things that are actually necessities. Although, this probably doesn’t fit the City’s 'big government above all’ philosophy.
It’s time to end tax-funded lobbying in Amarillo. The City of Amarillo needs to reassess its commitment to the people and begin focusing on prioritizing things to improve this City. Lobbyists do not provide a basic municipal function that improves the lives of citizens.
-Thomas Warren III, Editor-in-Chief