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Council OKs legislative teams, agenda for 2017

Friday, October 21, 2016 by Jo Clifton

City Council on Thursday approved the city’s legislative agenda, along with the hiring of 10 consultants in Austin and two in Washington, D.C. The Austin consultants altogether will receive $708,000, and the two Congressional consultants will receive $174,000.

The vote to hire the lobbyists was nearly unanimous, with Council Member Don Zimmerman voting no and Council Member Ellen Troxclair out on family leave.

The number one item on the city’s legislative agenda, according to Government Relations Officer Brie Franco, is preventing passage of legislation that would reduce the amount of revenue cities can get from property taxes. Franco told Council during Tuesday’s work session that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick intends to introduce legislation that would reduce the revenue cap from its current level of 8 percent to 4 percent.

The city – along with the Texas Municipal League, the Texas Association of Counties and a majority of cities and counties in the state – will be carefully watching Patrick’s proposal, which would reduce local governments’ ability to raise money for city and county services.

Under Patrick’s proposed legislation, if a Texas city were to increase property tax collections more than 4 percent in a year, there would be a mandatory election to ask voters whether they approve of the tax increase, according to Shanna Igo, the deputy executive director of legislative services for the Texas Municipal League. The current revenue cap law does not require an election but allows voters to petition for an election if the city raises property taxes by more than 8 percent.

Mayor Steve Adler introduced an amendment Thursday to allow the city’s legislative lobby team to “protect Austin’s civil rights ordinances and oppose legislation that attempts to diminish the city’s ability to protect citizens’ employment, housing or public accommodations and other civil rights that would threaten Austin’s welcoming environment to business conventions and events or that would tarnish Austin’s status as an inclusive community for all.”

The amendment was adopted with approval from everyone on the dais except Zimmerman, who abstained.
Zimmerman told his colleagues, “Obviously I’m in a minority position here as to what I’d like to see the state Legislature do. If I had six or more votes on this Council, I would vote to abolish this lobbying program. I don’t think it’s a fair use of taxpayers’ money to be lobbying for any positions, so I’m going to be voting against this.” He added, “If I had six or more votes for a legislative agenda that I think District 6 would approve of, or I approved, I would still vote to abolish this program.”

He then asked where on the agenda he could find the items to fund payments to the city’s legislative consultants, and the mayor informed him that those items had already been approved on the consent agenda.

Franco also identified the other priority issues, including protection of Austin Energy and limitations on the city’s authority to annex land. She told Council that there would be legislation proposing that people being annexed would have to vote to approve the annexation. That would be a fundamental change in the law, she said.

In addition, she said there will also be bills that would preempt municipal governments from enacting ordinances on transportation network companies (e.g., Uber and Lyft), fair-chance hiring, short-term rentals and plastic bags.

Franco explained to Council that she has kept some of the lobbyists the city has used in the past, but not all, and has added others. She said it is important to have lobbyists with political connections to everyone at the Legislature, including people in the Tea Party.

Here is a list of lobbyists for the 85th legislative session: Focused Advocacy (Brandon Aghamalian and Snapper Carr), Nora Del Bosque, Randall Erben, Cliff Johnson, Demetrius McDaniel, Clayton Pope, Luis Saenz, Trent Townsend, and Ross Peavey. Lobbyists for the city in Washington, D.C., include CapitalEdge (Ralph Garboushian) and Jeff Boothe, who will work on transportation, according to Rich Bailey, a member of the city’s Government Relations team.

Photo By Daniel Mayer (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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