Taxpayers shouldn't pay to lobby government

Posted on June 8, 2008

Taxpayers shouldn't pay to lobby government

by Editorial Staff

Sunday, Jun 08, 2008 - 12:35:00 am CDT

It's no wonder taxpayers feel frustrated when news emerges of how much public entities pay to lobby the state of Nebraska.

Residents pay taxes to an array of government bodies, from school districts to the city to the airport authority, and these entities in turn use their tax dollars to try to influence the very body that is supposed to distribute the state tax dollars, the Nebraska Legislature.

In 2007 alone, public entities reported these lobbying costs to the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission:

University of Nebraska: $122,878.

Lincoln Public Schools: $96,358.

Omaha Public Schools: $67,750.

City of Lincoln: $67,823.

City of Omaha: $64,934.

Lower Republican Natural Resources District: $40,650.

These numbers are disturbing enough by themselves, but they are just a small sampling of the amounts spent by public entities.

Jack Gould of Common Cause Nebraska says $783,000 was spent in 2007 in lobbying just on education issues alone.

"The school funding formula is adjusted every year, and it would appear that if your district wants its share, it should get a 'pro' down at the Capitol," Gould said.

Richer districts have an unfair advantage because they can afford lobbyists. You don't see the amounts spent by Lincoln and Omaha-area entities being spent by districts in Western Nebraska. Who do you think is more likely to get a better shake from the Legislature?

Not allowing public entities to engage in paid lobbying activities would even the playing field and reduce the waste of tax dollars.

After all, state senators are elected to weigh and then act in the best interests of all Nebraskans, including the local governments, schools and colleges.

Lobbyists do serve to educate senators on the ins and outs of complicated laws, such as the school funding formula. With all of the new senators entering the ranks in the past session because of term limits, this service is valuable.

However, those representing vested interests aren't the best ones to play this role. Senators need experienced and unbiased staff members to shepherd them through the process.

"Government lobbying is toxic to representative democracy," Goldwater Institute Chairman Tom Patterson said in a 2007 report. "It distorts the democratic process by pitting government interest against those of citizens. Letting government agents lobby with taxpayer funds . drowns out the voices of regular citizens, putting private citizens at a distinct disadvantage."

That disadvantage is crystal clear when public lobbyists are arguing for bigger government and more tax dollars, at odds with the interests of taxpayers.

It's time to stop governments from using tax dollars to try to influence government.

Date: 6/8/2008 12:00:00 AM

Office: Common Cause Nebraska

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