NTF Issue Paper: ccwatch47.  11-08.

 

NEBRASKA TAXPAYERS FOR FREEDOM ISSUE PAPER:

LOCAL GOVERNMENT SUBDIVISION AND QUASI-GOVERNMENTAL PAID LOBBYISTS: II.

 

BACKGROUND.  Local government taxing authorities in Nebraska counties continually levy higher property taxes on real property.  To further scalp and contradict taxpayers, many entities pay from these tax dollars large salaries to lobbyists, who work against taxpayer interests at our state legislature, Congress, etc., to direct additional funding to governmental subdivisions they represent. Government subdivisions not only pay their own lobbyists but also hire private firms. Many government entities join organizations, like the NE League of Municipalities, hat lobby for them, using annual dues paid by members.  This lobbying adds pressure on citizen taxes.  Taxing officials have the right to lobby themselves.  If they cannot make a convincing case for gaining additional revenues from various sources, they can blame only themselves.  The following summaries of local taxing authorities and quasi-government entities show the cost of paid lobbyists and lobbying organizations.  Many public officials in a professional manner complied quickly to meet our entire request.  However, we could not gain requested information from several of the above and extracted information from others only with difficulty and much patience, despite State of Nebraska open records laws mandating compliance.  The only means to enforce compliance is to file a lawsuit, which is very costly.  Some public officials attend training seminars showing how to avoid open records requests.  NTF members requesting public information sometimes meet with suspicion, rudeness, and hostility. 

 

NEBRASKA STATUTES.    Section 84-712.01 provides that the public records statutes shall be liberally construed when the fiscal records of a public body are involved so that citizens shall have full access to information on the public finances of government.  Section 84-712.04 provides that if a member of the public is denied access to a

            public record, he or she should receive the following information from the public body:

 

1.         A description of the contents of the records withheld and a statement of the specific reasons for the denial including citations to particular statutes and subsections relied upon as authority for the denial correlated to specific portions of the records at issue. 

2.         The name of the public employee or official who made the decision to deny the request. 

3.         Notification to the requestor of any administrative or judicial right of review under ' 84-712.03. 

Every public body shall maintain a file of all letters of denial of requests for records, and this file shall be made available to any person on request.  This portion of the statute was initially added as a part of LB 86 passed in 1979.
Any official who violates the provisions of the public records statutes shall be subject to removal or impeachment, and in addition, shall be guilty of a Class III misdemeanor.  Under
Neb. Rev. Stat. ' 28-106 (Cum. Supp. 2006), a Class III misdemeanor can be punished by up to three months in prison or a $500 fine, or both.  It has no minimum penalty.

 

UNDEMOCRATIC.  Tax-funded lobbying distorts the democratic process by funding viewpoints with which a majority of taxpayers disagree.  This process transforms government from a neutral policymaker into a promulgator of policies and ideologies.  This situation shields elected officials from accountability and financial disclosure.  These lobbyists and associations spend thousands annually to oppose government tax and spending limits.  Watch them stand many deep, waiting to testify at legislative hearings, circling their wagons to reserve their generous slices of tax dollar pie.  In this frenzy, government lobbyists actually compete against other taxpayer-funded lobbyists.  Below, we have included lobbying and associated information for each major local taxing authority in Douglas and Sarpy Counties, received after recent requests, according to the open records statutes of the State of Nebraska. 

 

CITY OF BENNINGTON.  Two requests made.  This taxing authority did not comply with the law and send us the requested information.

 

BENNINGTON PUBLIC SCHOOLS.  Two requests made.  This taxing authority did not comply with the law and send us the requested information.

 

DISTRICT 66 WESTSIDE SCHOOLS.  Westside Schools currently employs 1 paid lobbyist at $24,960 salary for 2009.  He lobbies the state legislature on specific bills dealing with education issues.  One bill, LB 988, raised the amount of state aid to public education, further grabbing state sales and income tax revenues.  The district paid 2008 dues of $7,924 to the NE Association of School Boards and $4,000 for 2008 dues to the National School Board Association.  Westside also paid 2008-2009 dues of $12,994 for NE Council of School Administrators memberships.  This amount includes, by member’s choice, membership in any one of the following NCSA affiliates: NE Association of School Administrators, NE Association of Elementary School Principals, NE State Association of Secondary School Principals, NE Assoc. of School Business Officials, and NE Association of Special Education Supervisors.  The above amount also includes memberships in any of 6 national organizations.  Several of these groups fund anti-taxpayer initiatives.

 

DOUGLAS COUNTY.  Douglas County employs 1 lobbyist, paid $46,864 in FY 2006-07 and $39,161 in FY 2007-08.  He lobbies the state legislature, the Governor, and Omaha City Council.  The county pays $11,409 yearly to the NE Assoc. of County Officials and $9,422 annually to the National Assoc. of County Officials, both lobbying organizations themselves.  Of the bills in the legislature lobbied on by the county lobbyist, our taxpayer group agreed with 6 and disagreed with 2.  County commissioner offices are within steps of city council offices, so commissioners could lobby city councilmen easily themselves.

 

DOUGLAS COUNTY WEST SCHOOL DISTRICT.  Two requests made.  This taxing authority did not comply with the law and send us the requested information. 

 

ELKHORN PUBLIC SCHOOLS.  This school district employs one paid lobbyist at $20,000 per year.  His primary focus of activities is in the Nebraska legislature.  His major efforts involve all issues that impact the education of students in the district.  The most recent payment to the NE Association of School Boards was $7,080.  District administrators receive $590 annually to apply to their professional dues, but the district does not track if individual administrators use these dollars to join professional organizations involved in lobbying activities. 

 

METRO AREA TRANSIT.  Metro Area Transit employs one paid lobbyist at $18,000 per year.  His primary focus of  activities is in the Nebraska legislature.  His major efforts involve transportation and other issues that affect MAT operations. 

 

METRO COMMUNITY COLLEGE.  MCC employs 1 paid lobbyist at $5,000 per month.  The college director of labor relations/general counsel serves as a liaison between the college and this contracted lobbyist and himself provides lobbying services for the college, paid through his regular salary.  These lobbyists lobby the state legislature on specific college issues, educational matters, and community college funding. 

 

METROPOLITAN UTILITIES DISTRICT.  MUD employs 2 lobbyists during the state legislative session. One contracted lobbyist receives $24,500 per year, the other $24,000 annually.  An MUD VP is a registered lobbyist and lobbies on a part-time basis in addition to his other duties.  He earns about $10,500 for his lobbying duties.  Government entities lobbied include the legislature, state executive branch, mayors and city councils, county boards, and local agencies that affect the distribution of gas and water to MUD customers. 

 

MILLARD PUBLIC SCHOOLS.  This school district employs a lobbying firm, paid $45,000 plus expenses in 2007 for lobbying at the state legislature. One district employee is a registered lobbyist, and part of his duties require him to coordinate with the firm lobbyists.  Major issues for these lobbyists are school district independence, teacher salaries, funding for state mandates, adequacy of funding, and spending and tax levy restrictions.  The district pays $10,063 dues to the NE Association of School Boards and $41,171 annually to the NE Council of School Administrators. 

 

CITY OF OMAHA.  The city has 1 official lobbyist, employed as a civil servant and reporting to the city council.  He spends about 1/3 of his time as an active lobbyist, so about 1/3 of his annual $90,000 salary allocates to lobbying duties.  He lobbies the state legislature and other state government entities.  Issues include state aid to cities and other issues of interest designated by city charter or related issues.  In 2007, the city paid $54,219 to the League of NE Municipalities. 

 

OMAHA PUBLIC POWER DISTRICT.  OPPD employs one contract lobbying firm, and one OPPD employee is a part-time lobbyist.  The utility spends about $66,000 for yearly lobbying activities, focused mostly on the state legislature.  Lobbyists deal mainly with environmental, tax, regulatory, renewable energy, customer service, and rate matters.

 

OMAHA PUBLIC SCHOOLS.  The school district employs 1 lobbyist, paid $73,078 in FY 2007-08.  This lobbyist lobbies the legislature on all issues pertaining to the school district and its educational service unit.  OPS pays the NE Association of School Boards $10,956, and the ESU pays it $712.  OPS paid $32,981 to the Council of Great City Schools for all organization benefits in FY 2008-09. 

 

PAPIO-MISSOURI RIVER NATURAL RESOURCES DISTRICT.  This NRD employs 1 lobbyist (Hal Daub) from a national law firm for local and state matters and shares costs with 2 other NRDs for a federal lobbyist.  The local lobbyist earns $60,000 annually, and the NRD pays $11,000 yearly as its share for the national lobbyist.  The local lobbyist lobbies local and state agencies and local and state elected bodies like the state legislature and Omaha City Council.  The federal lobbyist lobbies federal agencies and Congress.  Major lobbying issues include unfunded mandates, rules and regulations, and seeking funding sources such as authority to levy general obligation bonds to build dams, a proposal that would boost local property taxes. 

 

CITY OF RALSTON.  This city does not employ a paid lobbyist.  The city pays $10,200 annually to the League of Nebraska Municipalities and $1,074 dues to the National League of Cities. 

 

RALSTON SCHOOL DISTRICT.  Two requests made.  This taxing authority did not comply with the law and send us the requested information.

 

CITY OF VALLEY.  Valley has no paid lobbyists.  It pays $4,248 annually to the League of NE Municipalities. 

 

CITY OF BELLEVUE.  Two requests made.  This taxing authority did not comply with the law and send us the requested information.

 

BELLEVUE PUBLIC SCHOOLS.  The school district employs 2 paid lobbyists at $80,000 per year each.  Their primary focus of lobbying activities centers on the state legislature.  Their major issues in lobbying are educational service units, Learning Community, and school district boundary lines.  The most recent payment to the NE Association of School Boards was $8,678. 

 

CITY OF GRETNA.  The city does not employ a lobbyist. 

 

GRETNA PUBLIC SCHOOLS.  This taxing authority did not comply with the law and send us the requested information.

 

CITY OF LA VISTA.  La Vista paid the League of NE Municipalities $19,867 in 2007, and one of the services provided by the League was lobbying.  The city also paid a law firm $6,000 for contractual services that included lobbying in 2007. 

 

CITY OF PAPILLION.  This city paid a law firm $6,000 in 2007 for contracted services that included lobbying.  Papillion paid $31,026 to the League of NE Municipalities in 2007.

 

PAPILLION-LA VISTA SCHOOLS.  The school district superintendent and asst.supt. for business lobby for the school district on issues pertaining to the Learning Community, state financial aid, and state test assessments.  Response was incomplete.

 

SARPY COUNTY.  Two requests made.  This taxing authority did not comply with the law and send us the requested information.

 

SOUTH SARPY SCHOOL DISTRICT.  Two requests made.  This taxing authority did not comply with the law and send us the requested information.

 

UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA CENTRAL ADMINISTRATION.  In 1997, the university system employed 13,296 full-time employees, 13,155 in 2002, and 13,389 by 2007; yet the university system budgets have ballooned in 10 yrs.  At the state level, the U. has one employee who serves as a registered lobbyist, plus the institution contracts with a lobbying firm to provide services.  At the federal level, the U. has one employee who serves as a registered lobbyist, plus the institution contracts with Van Scoyoc Associates and another individual to provide services in Washington, D.C.  At the state level, the U. system paid its lobbyists about $87,592 in 2008.  At the federal level, the U. system paid its lobbyists $230,000 in 2008.  These lobbyists lobby our state government and Congress.  Major state issues/bills addressed by lobbyists included support for LB 606, which we also supported:

LB 606: Ashford.  To prohibit state dollars, facilities, or resources for research that destroys human embryos or creates cloned embryos for research or reproduction.  It will offer grants to encourage stem cell research by NE institutions and researchers that does not use human embryos.  Up to $500,000 per fiscal year from the state tobacco lawsuit settlement dollars will fund the grants.  PASSED/GOOD BILL

The U. supported LB 959, which we opposed.

LB 959: Flood.  Deficit appropriations and increased state funding for public schools by $4.8 million this fiscal year and $53 million in FY 2008-09.  The bill will raise the state gas tax by 1.2c per gallon, to glean $14.5 million, mostly to fund bloated union salaries and benefits for Roads Dept. employees.  Our total state gas tax will reach 26.7c per gallon. $500,000 for community-based elderly programs. $1.2 million for the Att.-Gen. to defend the State against the OP$ school aid lawsuit.  Spending will increase by about 5.5% for the 2-yr. budget cycle. To expand Medicaid to cover costs of smoking cessation counseling and RX drugs.  Appropriate $5 million for public transportation aid in FY 2008-09.   State agencies, however, have about $877 million placed in cash accounts, not pegged for specific expenditures.   PASSED/BAD BILL/VETOED
LB 959 override: To override the gubernatorial veto of LB 959.  VETO OVERRIDDEN.

The U. supported LB 961, which we also supported.

LB 961: Flood.  To transfer $75 million from the Cash Reserve Fund for local property tax relief. The teachers union opposed this bill. PASSED/GOOD BILL

The U. opposed LB 963, which NTF supported.

LB 963: Friend.  To prohibit state agencies and local government subdivisions from giving federal, state, or local public benefits to illegal aliens.  Each agency and local government must verify the lawful presence, as a citizen or legal alien, of anyone who applies for such benefits administered by them.  Included benefits are the following: grants, contracts, loans, professional licenses, commercial licenses, retirement benefits, welfare benefits, food stamps, health benefits, disability benefits, subsidized housing benefits, post-secondary education benefits, and unemployment benefits.  However, there are several exceptions to these exclusions: emergency medical care services and products like baby deliveries, vaccinations, testing and treatment of communicable diseases like gonorrhea, disaster relief, soup kitchens, and crisis counseling.   This bill apparently would repeal the 2006 law that bestowed in-state tuition rates on illegal aliens.  Verification would occur through the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements Program (SAVE) managed by the Dept. of Homeland Security.  Every state agency or local government that administers designated benefits would send an annual report to the Governor and Clerk of the Legislature evidencing compliance with the legislation and including the total number of applicants rejected for cause.  The latter requirement will highlight how much illegal immigration is impacting our safety net services.  Because federal law mandates several public benefits, some of which entail matched federal and state funding, it remains unclear how LB 963 would clarify which benefits or what percentage of a benefit illegal aliens could not access.  Also, exempting emergency medical care services would encourage illegals to gravitate towards hospital emergency wards, further increasing hospital costs.  Illegal aliens do not deserve disaster relief, which sometimes is lengthy in term, costly in benefits, and raises our private insurance premium costs. Militant Hispanic and other leftwing groups in NE oppose the legislation.  The Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on this bill soon.  KILLED

The U. supported LB 1013, which NTF opposed.

LB 1013: Gay.  To offer $2,000 annual scholarships to NE high school students with the 5% highest scores on ACT college entrance exams.  Scholarships, to NE public or private universities and colleges, could renew for 3 yrs., if recipients maintain a 3.5 grade point average and attend full-time.  Eventual cost is $6.4 million.  The objective is to retain college graduates to work in NE, though high taxes are encouraging such graduates to migrate to other states.  IN COMMITTEE

The U. and its board of regents both opposed LR 233, which NTF supported and endorsed.

LR 233CA: Christensen.  A constitutional amendment to ban public agencies like our universities from using reverse discrimination by race or ethnicity in hiring, enrollment, or scholarship awarding.  Many outreach state programs for employees and students, like ones in NE, do not require racial preferences.  This resolution requires the support of 30 senators to gain ballot access.  Reverse discrimination is unfair to white people and degrades minority students by not allowing them to compete fairly for college entrance or scholarships and discriminates in the work force.  UNL Pres. Milliken, UNL Chancellor Perlman, the UN Board of Regents, and militant Hispanic groups oppose this resolution. Liberal senators threatened to kill other of his bills, unless he withdrew this measure.   KILLED

Major federal issues addressed by lobbyists include a library depository program, university endowments, student tuition and financial assistance, federal tax policy, and study abroad. 

 

QUASI-GOVERNMENTAL ENTITIES.  We requested information from several quasi-governmental organizations that operate and lobby at least partly with public tax monies, but none replied to the following questions:

1)      Does any of your budget come in the form of dues/fees paid by a local taxing authority?

2)      If so, what is the total amount your organization received in 2008 from dues/fees paid by one or more taxing entities, and what percentage is that of your total budget?

3)      Is your association a Nebraska non-profit corporation?

4)      Is your association a federally tax-exempt organization?

5)      If so, what specific type of federally tax-exempt organization is it?

6)      Are your federal tax returns available to the public?

7)      How many paid lobbyists does your group employ?

8)      How much annually do you pay your lobbyist?

9)      Who or what government entities does your lobbyist lobby?

 

All of these organizations contribute thousands of dollars to campaigns to oppose petition campaigns to relieve our tax load.  If any are tax-exempt groups, they must allow public scrutiny of their federal tax returns, which would glaringly show if they had received funds from other entities and government subdivisions opposing tax reform.  The following is a list of these non-complying groups:

Omaha Administrators Education Association.
Nebraska Council of School Administrators.

Nebraska Association of School Boards.

Nebraska Association of County Officials.

League of Nebraska Municipalities.

Nebraska Region IV Elementary School Principals.

Nebraska Western College Education Association.

University of Nebraska Foundation.

TAKE ACTION NOW.  It is outrageous that Nebraska taxpayers must fund lobbying activities by cities, counties, school districts, and other local taxing authorities and their associations that conduct business outside the purview of open records and reporting mandates placed on local governments.  First, require local governments to completely disclose lobbying payments and instructions under a Sunshine Law.  Then, lobby your state senator to pass legislation that prohibits local government subdivisions from paying lobbyists to lobby on their behalf for tax monies with other government subdivisions.  Prohibit local governments from joining associations that lobby against taxpayers.  Email netaxpayers@cox.net for a list of state senators. Recall the Thomas Jefferson statement, “To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”

 

Research and documentation for this issue paper done by Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom.  This material copyrighted and notarized by Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom, with express prior permission for its use by Citizens for Local Control, Cherry County Taxpayers, Dawes County Taxpayers, and other groups in the Taxpayer Freedom Network.  11-08.