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High-priced lobbyists paid for with your tax dollars

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SAN ANTONIO - News 4 Trouble Shooters launched an investigation into how high-priced lobbyists are being paid with your tax dollars, and what they are being paid to do.

Last year, we told you the City of San Antonio, Bexar County and our big utilities were all paying for office space in Austin so staff members can lobby legislators.

SAWS is paying $51K a year for it's Austin office, while CPS Energy spent $81K to rent a satellite location. On top of that, we've learned they all spend a lot more on outside lobbying firms.

The City of San Antonio sends a team of employees to Austin to lobby lawmakers, but the past two years, it's also paid almost $450K to outside lobbyists. The city calls them consultants and says they're well worth the money.

In the past, they helped persuade legislators to fund the renovation of the Alamo and improvements to local military bases and reducing the likelihood of those bases being closed down in the future.

"Last session, we got more than $30-million for the Alamo, more than $10-million to protect our military bases," said Jeff Coyle, City of San Antonio. "And our military generates $49 billion in our local economy every year."

Coyle said that staff members can only go up to Austin when the legislature is in session.

"We use our consultants in Austin to supplement our efforts, to be our eyes and ears on the ground there year round," he said.

What about our local legislators who you elected to represent you in Austin? Why can't they look out for our interests instead of having to hire paid lobbyists?

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said one reason: Party politics.

"Almost all our representatives are Democrats," Wolff said. "The Republicans control both the House and the Senate so you have to have links to the Republican Party, they're the dominant player. And many of the lobbyists we employ do have links to them."

Bexar County spent $162K on lobbying firms the past two years, in addition to its $51K a year office up in Austin.

SAWS showered close to $350K on lobbyists the past two years. SAWS sent us this statement.

"As a highly regulated industry, our presence and interaction in Austin with legislators and State Agencies is critical. This interaction helps forge successful financial and regulatory partnerships."

SAWS said that's helped make things like it's desalination plant possible.

Then there's CPS Energy, which spent almost $700K on outside lobbyists in 2015-16. The utility says lobbyists are its conduit to the capitol and numerous government agencies.

"It's important to maintain close ties with these governing bodies being the largest Municipally Owned electric and gas utility in the country," said CPS Energy in a statement.

The City of San Antonio did cut back on one lobbying expense in 2017. It's no longer paying rent for an Austin office due to budget cuts.



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