Empower Wisconsin | Jan. 9, 2020
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — When state Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R-New Berlin) proposed a bill that would require local governments to take wheel tax proposals to voters, the League of Wisconsin Municipalities vowed to kill the measure.
It was another case of a government advocacy group using local taxpayer dollars to lobby against the interests of the same taxpayers.
“I think the only reason you would oppose requiring a referendum to impose a wheel tax on citizens is that you’re concerned the voters don’t support it and you’re interested in imposing the tax against the will of the voters,” said Scott Manley, senior vice president of Government Relations for Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC). “That’s exactly what the Founders of our country worked to stop from happening.”
WMC has called for reforms to state lobbying laws, urging policymakers to approve legislation that would prohibit local governments from using taxpayer dollars to pay for third-party advocacy organizations and private lobbyists.
Last month, the state’s largest business advocate released a report, “Local (Out Of) Control: How Your Tax Dollars Are Used to Lobby for Higher Taxes,” on what it asserts is a double-dipping system effectively hitting taxpayers twice.
During the 2017-18 legislative session, local government groups spent more than $5 million lobbying state government — in many cases for policies to raise taxes, the WMC report states. The biggest player was the Wisconsin Counties Association, which spent more time lobbying state government in the first half of 2019 than any other lobbying entity, according to the Wisconsin Ethics Commission.
In the last legislative session, the Counties Association and the League of Wisconsin Municipalities each spent $800,000 lobbying for their members, often for legislation that many taxpayers would oppose.
The report “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.”
“The millions of dollars spent by local governments each year on lobbying could be put to better use to improve roads, provide additional funding to schools or better support law enforcement,” the report asserts.
But local government officials like the return on investment. The lobbyist’s bill goes to the taxpayer, who is squeezed again by lucrative revenue makers like wheel taxes.
It’s a win-win for big government.