AUSTIN (KXAN) — Outrage over special treatment for Omaha-based billionaire Warren Buffett has key Republican lawmakers in the Texas Senate staying mum on what they did.
A few days after reports describing Buffett’s quick meetings with top Texas leaders, a bill benefiting his company is quickly moving through the legislature. Lawmakers acting on the idea don’t want to talk about what’s been dubbed the “Buffett bill.”
Our media partners at the Texas Tribune originally reported Buffett meeting with Republicans Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and what proceeded was the quick filing of SB 2279 by State Senator Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills.
In Texas, vehicle manufacturers are banned from owning dealerships. Consumers must buy cars through franchised auto dealers. The Texas Automotive Dealers Association has successfully lobbied lawmakers to shoot down bills allowing car manufacturers to sell directly to consumers—most notably, Tesla. Buffett seems to be an exception.
Buffett’s company, Berkshire Hathaway, owns more than 20 dealerships in Texas according to internal reports. The same company also owns Indiana-based Forest River Inc., an RV manufacturer. According to the bill analysis, SB 2279 would allow a parent company to manufacture and distribute vehicles as long as they aren’t the same type of vehicles.
How was SB 2279 filed after the March 10 deadline to file new bills? After Buffett’s visit, the Texas Senate took an unusual move and allowed the bill to be filled on April 18—more than a month after the bill filing deadline. Two days later, it was unanimously voted out of the Business Commerce Committee chaired by Sen. Hancock. Compared to the thousands of other bills slogging through at the Texas State Capitol, SB 2279 was turbo-charged.
Other bills breaking down Texas’ protectionist laws are frozen in the process. SB 2093 by Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, and HB 4236 by Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs are both in a holding pattern. Those bills would allow consumers to buy cars directly from manufacturers in the state.
The double standard has Tea Party groups outraged. A letter to Buffett from a coalition of Tea Party activists—JoAnn Fleming from Grassroots America, Cathie Adams from the Texas Eagle Forum, and Julie McCarty from NE Tarrant TEA Party—blasted the billionaire’s special treatment.
“Since you obviously have much more influence over our state officials than we do, we ask for your help in passing the direct sales bills that would benefit all Texans,” the letter asked Buffett.
Abbott and Patrick have not responded to a KXAN request for comment. Neither has the Senate sponsor of the bill, Sen. Hancock.
KXAN also reached out to every member of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee (seven who approved the bill, two who were absent) and their offices either did not respond or said “the senator prefers not to comment.” Another senate office replied with, “does not have a statement.”
Diarmuid O’Connell, VP of Business Development for Tesla, is talking. “We, along with Texas car buyers, look forward to seeing that change come to life,” he wrote in a statement, “without carve-outs, exemptions or special treatment.”
KXAN reached out to the press office of Berkshire Hathaway but our call has not yet been returned.