MADISON – Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) released a new report on Tuesday outlining the need to reform how taxpayer money is used to fund third-party advocacy organizations and private contract lobbyists. While businesses and homeowners are faced with some of the highest property taxes in the nation, local governments are funding private groups to lobby state government for even more taxing and regulatory power.
The new report – Local (Out Of) Control – aims to help taxpayers understand how their money is used by local government.
“Even though Wisconsin has the fifth-highest property taxes in the country, Wisconsin businesses and homeowners are still facing an ever-increasing tax burden from local governments,” said Corydon Fish, WMC General Counsel and Director of Tax, Transportation and Legal Affairs. “It is especially unsettling that local governments fund private advocacy organizations and contract lobbyists that are not accountable to voters to push unpopular policies – like more taxing authority – at the state level.”
WMC’s report shows taxpayer-funded lobbying by local governments has become a big business in Wisconsin. In fact, during the 2017-18 legislative session, local government groups funded by tax dollars spent more than $5 million lobbying state government – in many cases for policies to raise taxes.
It also outlines how local governments subvert the democratic process by funding third-party associations – not subject to open meetings or public records laws – to lobby for policies that are not popular with the general taxpaying public. Some of these private third-party lobbyists even draw benefits from the Wisconsin Retirement System while doing so.
“Reforms to this process are desperately needed to protect local taxpayers,” added Fish. “Taxpayers should know their local governments are working on their behalf, not working against them to implement higher taxes or increased regulations. A more open and transparent system is needed.”
WMC urges policymakers to approve legislation that would prohibit local governments from using taxpayer dollars to pay for third-party advocacy organizations and private lobbyists. The report also recommends legislation that would prohibit the use of taxpayer dollars for issue advocacy campaigns, and prohibit third-party lobbyists from receiving state pension and health care benefits.
To read the full report, please click here.