By Terri Jo Neff |
A new report released by the taxpayer-watchdog group Goldwater Institute is calling on the Arizona Legislature to address the use of public money by the League of Arizona Cities and Towns for purposes which go against the public’s interest.
“Taxpayer-Funded League Lobbies Against Taxpayer Interests,” the report by Jon Riches and Jenna Bentley, details the use of taxpayer funds by the League of Arizona Cities and Towns in ways which represent the interests of public officials and government bureaucrats rather than the interests of the taxpaying public.
“The League uses taxpayer dollars to help fund its political efforts, frequently lobbying in favor of or against proposed legislation at the Arizona Legislature,” according to Riches, the Goldwater Institute Director of National Litigation, and Bentley, the Goldwater Institute Director of Government Affairs. “While the League supports and opposes bills sponsored by members of both political parties, its agenda is decidedly anti-freedom, pro-government, and partisan.”
The situation can easily be addressed if state lawmakers approve three reforms, the report states.
“It is time to protect taxpayers by prohibiting taxpayer-funded lobbying activities while also increasing transparency and accountability when local governments advocate at the legislature through membership organization,” Riches and Bentley assert.
To start, the report recommends extending the current ban enacted in 2017 on using taxpayer funds to pay for lobbyists who represent the state government. The ban should also apply to local government governments and the League, Riches and Bentley propose.
“Cities and towns could still voluntarily join together to discuss issues of mutual concern—but do so without expending taxpayer resources on lobbying,” they say.
Then, there needs to be state legislation passed to address the disproportionate rate of dues paid to the League by smaller municipalities. This occurs because overall dues are capped for Arizona’s larger cities, resulting in a higher per capita rate for citizens of smaller communities.
“Residents of small cities and towns should not bear a disproportionate burden in financing the League and its activities,” the report states. “After all, larger cities receive the same services from the League that smaller cities do.”
The third recommendation put forth by Riches and Bentley calls on lawmakers to ensure better transparency by the League, which is a nonprofit organization comprised exclusively of local governments. In fact, more than a dozen League employees are currently active in the Arizona State Retirement System (ASRS) and several retired League employees receive ASRS pensions.
“League employees themselves are technically private employees, but in many ways they enjoy the benefits of government employment,” the report notes. “Given that the League’s membership is comprised solely of public bodies and its employees receive government perks, one would expect the League to be subject to the same transparency and accountability measures that apply to other public entities.”
These reforms, according to Riches and Bentley, would go a long way toward ensuring tax dollars are used to advance the public’s business, not to amplify the voice of special interest lobbyists.
“The Arizona Legislature can protect municipal taxpayers from the abuses that occur when local governments use taxpayer resources to lobby state government and blur the line between public and private activities,” the report recommends. “It is time to protect taxpayers by prohibiting taxpayer-funded lobbying activities while also increasing transparency and accountability when local governments advocate at the legislature through membership organizations.”