An Arizona-based taxpayer watchdog organization, the Goldwater Institute, is calling out the League of Arizona Cities and Towns for using the public’s money against the public’s interest.
The Institute argues that “taxpayer dollars should be used to advance the public good, not to bankroll lobbyists who advocate against taxpayers’ interests.”
The Institute alleges that Arizonans are being “forced to fund a purportedly “private” organization that represents the interests of politicians and government bureaucrats instead of the public.”
In a new report, “ Taxpayer-Funded League Lobbies Against Taxpayer Interests ,” Goldwater Institute Director of National Litigation Jon Riches and Director of Government Affairs Jenna Bentley detail how the League of Arizona Cities and Towns uses taxpayer dollars to fund its anti-freedom agenda. They also propose three solutions that the Arizona Legislature can implement to protect taxpayers.
The League defines itself as “a voluntary membership organization of the incorporated municipalities in Arizona, [which] exists to provide vital services and tools to all its members, focusing principally on representing the interests of cities and towns before the legislature.”
In reality, according to the Institute, the League represents largely pro-government, partisan interests.
Though the League does support bills from both parties, during the 2021 regular legislative session, it opposed 44 Republican-sponsored bills and zero pieces of Democratic-sponsored legislation. The town of Gilbert uses tax dollars to fund its membership in the League, yet in 2021 alone, the League opposed five bills introduced by state lawmakers elected to represent Gilbert residents. And the League’s taxpayer-funded lobbyists vehemently opposed one of the most substantial tax relief reforms in Arizona’s history. Fortunately, despite League opposition, the Goldwater-supported measure to implement a 2.5 percent flat tax rate in Arizona ultimately passed.
Moreover, the League’s electioneering disproportionately affects residents of smaller (and often more rural) cities and towns. Member cities pay a base fee of $4,300 in annual League dues, plus a per capita rate. But dues are capped for the largest cities. As a result of this fee structure, residents of smaller cities and towns bear a disproportionate burden when funding the League’s activities compared to residents of larger cities. For example, Prescott taxpayers paid seven times more than Phoenix residents in membership dues in 2020.
The League purports to be a private organization, yet it consists exclusively of local governments and exists primarily to lobby on behalf of local public bodies. Put another way, the League represents taxpayers funding one level of government to lobby another level of government. And even though the League’s employees are supposedly private workers, they enjoy the benefits of government employment, like taxpayer-funded pensions.
But despite possessing the attributes of public entity, the League is not subject to the same transparency and accountability measures that apply to other public bodies. It’s unclear, for example, whether Arizona’s Public Records Act (APRA) – which requires government entities to make public information available upon request – applies to the League and its employees.
In their report, Riches and Bentley propose three legislative solutions to end the abuses that occur when local governments use public resources to lobby state government.
First, they call on the Arizona legislature to extend its 2017 ban on the use of taxpayer funds for lobbyists representing the state government to local lobbying activities as well, including those of the League. Second, Riches and Bentley propose state legislation requiring that all residents pay no more than the same per capita rate in League dues as the most populous member city. Finally, they urge the legislature to ensure transparency by expressly including entities whose membership is composed primarily of public bodies within APRA.
They say these three reforms “would go a long way toward protecting Arizonans who fork over their hard-earned money to the government. It’s time for the legislature to stand up for the taxpaying public and against pro-big government, special interest lobbyists.”