Should tax dollars be used to pay lobbyists in Kansas? One anti-tax activist in the state thinks not, but a closer examination of the issue reveals some flaws in his logic.
Karl Peterjohn, the head of the Kansas Taxpayers Network, is trying to strike a nerve with Kansans by telling them that their local tax dollars are being used to lobby the Kansas Legislature to increase state spending. That statement certainly hits a hot button for many residents, but it doesn't tell the whole story. It has, however, gotten the attention of Sen. Kay O'Connor, R-Olathe, who has sponsored a bill to prohibit use of public money to fund lobbying activities.
The target of the bill is the money local school districts and city and county governments spend to tell their side of the story to legislators. First, it's not a lot of money. In most cases, lobbyists are connected with associations that provide a variety of networking and professional services for members statewide.
The Lawrence school district pays $10,000 to be a member of the Kansas Association of School Boards, the city pays about $27,700 a year to be part of the League of Kansas Municipalities and the county spends about $12,700 for membership in the Kansas Association of Counties. In every instance, lobbying is only one part of the associations' mission, so the amount local government entities are spending on lobbyists is minimal in the big budget scheme. Care, however, needs to be given that public money is used to lobby on city, county and school issues and not to reflect the likes or dislikes of individual commissioners or school board members.
Apparently, the bill not only would ban registered lobbyists who are paid with tax money but also would prevent any public official whose salary is paid by taxes from testifying or providing information to the Legislature. That would include not only administrators but perhaps any elected official who draws a tax-paid salary.
Proponents of the bill say that's OK, because local governments sometimes are at odds with the preferences of individual residents. One example they gave is that while many people want limits placed on the use of eminent domain, local governments want to take a less restrictive approach.
Legislators should, by all means, hear from individual residents on the issue of eminent domain, but they also should hear from governmental units that condemn property for public uses. Those local governments are led by elected officials who represent their cities, counties or school districts. They have standing and opinions that deserve to be heard.
Although Peterjohn wants to rally support by saying local governments are lobbying for more state spending, many matters of importance to local governments have nothing to do with spending. He says that government lobbyists put individuals at a disadvantage, but local government lobbyists are far more likely to represent the interests of individual residents than the many privately paid lobbyists hired by corporate and business interests.
Limiting access to representatives of government officials elected by individual Kansans makes no sense. It's the job of elected state representatives to evaluate all of the arguments presented on issues of importance to the state. The concerns of local governments deserve to be part of that discussion.