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Tea Party leaders push back on GOP over fast-tracked "Buffett Bill"

Conservative activists are pushing back against the so-called “Buffett Bill,” which would let billionaire Warren Buffett hang onto his car dealerships in Texas but keep the market closed to Tesla and other manufacturers.

Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett drinks a soft drink at the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska on May 1, 2010.

Conservative activists are pushing back against Republican leaders who are fast-tracking the so-called “Buffett Bill,” which would let billionaire Warren Buffett hang onto his car dealerships in Texas but keep the state market closed to Tesla and other manufacturers.

A who’s-who of Tea Party leaders under the banner of the Texas Free Market Coalition — including JoAnn Fleming of East Texas, Eagle Forum board member and past President Cathie Adams and NE Tarrant Tea Party leader Julie McCarty — blasted the legislation allowing a “politically favored entity” to get special treatment in the Legislature.

Senate Bill 2279 by Republican Sen. Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills would create a loophole for Buffett, whose ownership of an RV manufacturer in Indiana could otherwise preclude him from keeping Texas dealerships owned by his Berkshire Hathaway Automotive. 

Texas has deeply protectionist laws that force consumers to buy new cars in the state through franchised auto dealers.

The coalition penned an open letter Monday to Buffett, and Fleming said its members have been calling senators’ offices asking them to either change the bill to allow direct-to-consumer vehicle sales or oppose Hancock’s fast-tracked bill.

“Most of our Texas politicians who claim to be free market champions are happy to engage in protectionism and to use our tax dollars to pick winners and losers,” the coalition wrote. “Mr. Buffett, we are just ordinary Texans fighting to keep some of our hard-earned money through true free market choice, unhampered by government meddling. 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."

Hancock and the offices of the governor and lieutenant governor did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Texas Tribune.

Last week, the Texas Senate used emergency powers to introduce — after a filing deadline had passed — what Capitol insiders quickly dubbed the Buffett Bill. It shot out of Hancock's Committee on Business and Commerce like a lightning bolt toward the Senate floor a couple days later. 

A bill to help diesel engine maker Cummins Inc. keep its auto dealerships fell prey to opposition from the powerful Texas Automotive Dealers Association. A bill that would allow people to buy vehicles directly from manufacturers like Tesla hasn't gotten a hearing yet.

The Tea Party activists said Buffett would benefit along with other manufacturers if the direct sales bills — SB 2093 and HB 4236 — were adopted and signed into law.

"If those bills were to pass, you would be able to own dealerships in Texas, while Texas consumers would benefit from more options at lower prices," the coalition wrote. "It's a win/win or what economists call a 'positive sum outcome.'"  

Disclosure: Tesla Motors Inc. and the Texas Automotive Dealers Association have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors is available here.

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