Tax funded lobbyists spending revealed

Tax Funded Lobbyists Spending Revealed
By Karl Peterjohn, Kansas Taxpayers Network

There are lobbyists and there are taxpayer funded lobbyists roaming the halls of the statehouse during the legislative sessions. A small window on the taxpayer funded lobbying opened up following the two separate legal actions of Attorney General Phill Kline and the Topeka Capital-Journal in seeking spending data from the Schools for Fair Funding organization. The attorney general and the newspaper deserve a pat-on-the-back for fighting for the disclosure of this information.

Schools for Fair Funding is the tax funded group of 19 medium and large public school districts that do not have enough tax funds for their classrooms but have plenty of cash for lawsuits. They even have a euphemism for this spending. At an August news conference Winston Brooks, the superintendent of the Wichita public schools that is one of the 19 school districts, called this spending an “investment.” Wichita public schools spent $175,000 for this lawsuit and lobbying effort.

The school districts could afford this since many of them are carrying large cash balances and dumping funds into savings accounts and certificates of deposit. This is a statewide issue and not just an issue in some Johnson County public school districts. Wichita public schools’ unencumbered cash balance at the end of their 2005-06 school year was a record setting $82,456,158 or 15.2% increase over the previous year. Some investment.

The school districts succumbed to this legal pressure generated by these two lawsuits and issued their expenditures August 24. Over $2.9 million in tax funds was spent by the school districts with over $2.2 million for lawyers but also included in this spending over six years was $474,000 for two statehouse lobbyists for this group. This reported expenditure is the tip of a spending iceberg that covers the over 100 lobbyists registered to lobby on behalf of tax funded cities, counties, schools, special taxing districts, elected official organizations, and colleges in this state.

Your tax funds are used to lobby for more sales tax authority this year for cities and counties — which the legislature and Governor Sebelius granted. The schools lobbied for millions and millions of additional state tax funds and got even more. In the past the city and county lobbies successfully killed the property tax lid in 1999. Is it any wonder that your property taxes are rising?

There is a crying need for additional disclosure about tax funded lobbying in Kansas. This lobbying is the tip of the iceberg since the politically active local officials at city hall and the courthouse are the first ones to receive statehouse information from their lobbyists. Naturally, elected officials are quite politically well connected even without having their tax funded lobbyists.

These facts are well known among statehouse lobbyists. Sadly, these facts are not well known by average Kansans. The revelation of almost $1/2 million in tax funds being spent by Schools For Fair Funding for just two lobbyists is the tip of a much larger government lobbying iceberg and abuse of taxpayers in this state.

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Karl Peterjohn is the executive director of the Kansas Taxpayers Network and is a former California Department of Finance budget analyst and newspaper reporter.

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