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Ken Paxton joins lawsuit against Austin, fire union

Continuing recent efforts to challenge local policies across the state, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton moved Tuesday to join a lawsuit, filed last month by conservative groups, that seeks to bar the city of Austin from continuing to pay firefighters for engaging in union business.

The practice, Paxton told a state district court in Austin, violates the Texas Constitution’s prohibition against sending government money to private organizations that don’t have a public purpose.

“The city of Austin has abused its taxing power and with it the public trust,” Paxton said. “It is a basic tenet of democratic government that tax money be oriented towards a common good. An agreement that enriches a private organization at the cost of Austin residents’ health and safety cannot be allowed to stand.”

RELATED: Paxton joins lawsuit challenging Austin’s short-term rental ordinance

The city’s labor agreement means taxpayers are paying the equivalent of three full-time firefighters each year to engage in private political activity on behalf of the union, Paxton told the court.

Union and city officials have defended the practice, which they say allows local firefighters to participate in pay negotiations, attend dispute resolution proceedings and foster public-private partnerships that ultimately reduce costs for taxpayers.

“This is quite simply a union-busting move,” Bob Nicks, president of the Austin Firefighters Association, said after the initial lawsuit was filed in September by the Austin-based Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute.

RELATED: Ken Paxton sues Brownsville over bag fee

Although Paxton has made a name for himself by repeatedly suing the Obama administration over environmental, immigration and transgender policies, Tuesday’s motion to intervene in the Austin lawsuit highlights a willingness to use the power of his office to challenge local policies as well.

In the past four weeks, Paxton has:

Joined a lawsuit, also filed by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, that seeks to overturn Austin regulations on short-term rental houses.

Sued to overturn Brownsville’s $1 environmental fee per transaction on single-use plastic grocery bags.

• Intervened in separate lawsuits challenging the property tax policies of the Kilgore and White Deer school districts.

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In the latest intervention, Paxton complained that Austin improperly allows firefighters to take paid leave to conduct union business, which he said is inherently political.

Although the Austin contract bars union members from taking paid leave for state or national political activities, Paxton argued that it allows for local political participation — which he defined as activities related to improving wages, work conditions and firefighter safety.

“Texas intervenes to assist in restoring to its taxpayers what rightfully belongs to them — their own money,” he told the court.

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