Most of the time, the interests of the Texas Association of Business and Republicans in the Texas Legislature line up pretty well. Both groups want fewer government regulations on employers, expansive at-will employment and school choice vouchers for Texas parents, among other things.
Over the past couple of years, however, one particular schism, highlighted by association Tuesday, has deepened: The Texas Association of Business wants nothing to do with the Texas GOP's anti-LGBTQ agenda, no matter how big of a priority it is for some of the state's leaders.
On Tuesday, Chris Wallace, president of the business group, warned that if the legislature carries through on one of Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick's priorities for the 2017 legislative session — a comprehensive bathroom bill that would require all Texans to use restrooms consistent with the sex listed on their birth certificate, regardless of their gender — it could cost the state $8.5 billion in lost revenues and 185,000 jobs.
“The message from the Texas business community is loud and clear,” Wallace said at a Tuesday press conference. “Protecting Texas from billions of dollars in losses is simple: Don’t pass unnecessary laws that discriminate against Texans and our visitors.”
Wallace's assertion is based on numbers from an economic impact study the Texas Association of Business commissioned from researchers at St. Edward's University in Austin. Most of the fallout, the study says, would come from lost event and tourism revenue. The study points to the fallout from North Carolina's 2016 bathroom bill, which led to events like the 2017 NCAA Tournament and 2017 NBA All-Star Game being pulled from the state, as an example of what could happen if Texas takes a similar step.
"Texas laws need to reflect the openness for which we are so well known," Wallace said. "We cannot send mixed messages to businesses looking to operate or move to Texas by creating barriers."
In November, Patrick asserted that there is wide support for a bathroom bill across the state, citing a phone survey conducted by his campaign office that asked respondents if they "support[ed] passing a state law that would make it illegal for men to enter in a public women's restroom, locker room or shower in order to assure women have privacy and can feel safe"
“A majority of Texans in both political parties and in every ethnic and demographic group believe that women and girls should have privacy and safety in their restrooms, showers and locker rooms,” he said.
Participants in Patrick's survey did not change their minds when informed about potential economic losses, according to Patrick, but Wallace said Patrick's proposed bill could chase off the high-skill and young workers the state is so desperate to attract.
“We now face overwhelming data about the risk of damage to the economy and reputation of our great state resulting from legislation that would allow for discrimination,” he said.