Tens of millions of dollars are spent each year by local governments to lobby other governments. A good portion of these efforts are focused on The Hill, where “K Street” firms grease wheels to bring home millions in pork. Cities also employ lobbyists to roost at the state capitol; where they often rail against good reforms or attempts to bridle their authorities. At the end of the day – taxpayers lose – whether the cities’ lobbying labors prove “successful” or not.
Every legislative session it’s the same scene; scores of lobbyists representing cities and counties flock to the capitol, ready to fight state leadership. It is a war between governments, with the taxpayers forced to fund both sides. These local lobbyists are trained to identify any bills that would have a fiscal impact or wrestle powers away. The most popular argument used – “local control.” On its face, local control is heralded as the closer-to-the-people government, and therefore better. Yet many of these cities more closely resemeble hardened fiefdoms, than oases of freedom.
Take for example the recent battle over Transaction Privlege Tax (TPT) reform in 2013. For years the business community begged policy makers to do something to simplify the cumbersome process of remitting TPT. Specifically, contractors who provided services in any of the 19 charter cities, were required to file monthly in every jurisdiction they had transaction, in addition to the Department of Revenue. For many businesses this created a mountain of paperwork every month and cost tons of time and money to comply. The major opposition to any reforms was the Arizona League of Cities and Towns. They lobbied hard against their business taxpayers, using those same tax payer’s dollars to do so. In the end it passed, but not before the cities negotiated a clause to delay the launch of the reforms until the cities had deemed the new processes perfect. This seeminly innocuous provision at the time has shifted the intended deadline of January 2015 – to no where in the foreseeable future. Whether it’s private property rights, ridiculous regulations, or additional taxing authority, the cities are on the wrong side of their own constituents.
Most municipalities employ one or two in-house “governmental affairs” representatives who are paid handsomely to be in the ears of state representatives. In the City of Buckeye they spend just over $119,000 dollars on their employee lobbyist – and that’s just one person. In addition to in-house lobbyists, many cities contract lobbying firms up and above. The City of Goodyear paid contract lobbyists $168,000 last year alone. And of course there are the organizations paid by local governments to engage in lobbying activities. Many of these organizations have in-house lobbyists and contract lobbyists. The Town of Gilbert spent over $330,000 with these organizations and the City of Surprise $152,000. The Arizona League of Cities and Towns, Local Chambers of Commerce, Maricopa Association of Governments…the hydra of city lobbyists has a thousand heads.
At the end of the day voices of actual individual and business taxpayers are stifled by the ubiquity of the hired guns of local governments. These legions of lobbyists have replaced the very tenets of our democratic republic. Instead of elected officials being the conduit of the people, unelected lobbyists represent “The City” at the expense of the “the people.” As a result we have bureaucrats (not the legislative branch) shaping policy, instead of executing it. The solution is simple. Prohibit the misuse of public funds for lobbying. Taxpayers deserve direct and transparent representation, accountability of their tax dollars, and a fighting chance to to be heard by their representatives.