The following is a statement by Republican Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen issued before his Tuesday announcement that he would not run for re-election to the House of Representatives. This comes after release of an explosive audio recording suggesting he and then-GOP caucus leader Dustin Burrows planned to undermine Texas cities and counties and conspired against Republicans resisting such efforts. In the recording, Bonnen at one point tells a right-wing lobbyist: “In this office and in the conference room on that end, any mayor, county judge that was dumbass enough to come meet with me, I told them with great clarity, my goal is for this to be the worst session in the history of the Legislature for cities and counties.”
I have great respect and admiration for our city and county officials. Understand why I said what I did. I am NOT anti-local government, but I AM a pro-taxpayer conservative. It is the large, progressive, urban local governments that have been working against Texas taxpayers for years.
For years, urban local governments in our state have run amok, using the cover of “local control” to pass whatever laws and ordinances they want. Permitting homeless camping. Banning ridesharing. Mandating paid sick leave and minimum-wage hikes. Forcing annexation. The list goes on and on.
The issue here is not rural and small areas. I’m talking about the large urban cities who think they have the unlimited authority to mandate any progressive policy they want. When they exceed their jurisdiction, the state is obligated to keep them in check. It’s not just about what they’re pushing locally. If you’re in a large urban area city or county, the very entities you send taxes to are turning around and using them to work against your best interests in our Capitol.
Here’s what I was referring to in my conversation: In the 86th session, they fought bills to ban taxpayer-funded lobbying and forced annexation. They were against taxpayers voting on property-tax increases, increasing penalties for ballot fraud and firefighters with occupational cancer getting the worker’s compensation benefits they deserve. They’ve fought ballot disclosure measures that would show taxpayers what proposed bonds really cost, fought the ban on red-light cameras, appraisal district board reform and they tried to increase your sales taxes to pay for mass transit.
It was the taxpayer-funded lobbyists for the big cities and counties who fought to stop lawmakers from increasing transparency in the property-tax system — part of our larger effort to slash property taxes by $5 billion. In doing so, they sent a message to taxpayers that they don’t think property taxes are a problem.
I’ve worked on the issue of property taxes for years. The big cities have had countless opportunities to come to the table and identify solutions that work for everyone. As property-tax issues grew worse and worse, they turned a blind eye and continuously refused the chance to be a part of the solution. Texans sent us a clear message — they were sick and tired of skyrocketing property taxes and demanded solutions. So we stopped wasting time chasing after those who would never come around and used the time we had to do something about it. What can I say? I believe in efficient government.
Any session yielding $5 billion in property-tax cuts and more transparency is a win for taxpayers. Big cities see it as a loss. It happened this session and it will happen again. I regret what I said and how I said it, but that’s what I tried to convey in that 30-second soundbite of our hour-long conversation.
There is a lot we passed this session to support and benefit cities and counties. We added local resources to prepare for and respond to disasters, invested $6 billion in education and gave local school districts the discretion to use it, and we worked with rural and small-revenue cities to find a workable solution for Senate Bill 2, our landmark taxpayer transparency bill.
I want to reiterate that my foremost priority is the taxpayers of Texas. I firmly believe that local governments play an important role in our communities, so long as they have them as their top priority, too.