December 22, 2014

Opinion: Government mentally less like public service, more like big business

This column first appeared in the Dec. 14, 2005, edition of The Gardner News

Government seems to have taken on a life of its own.
As opposed to being “by the people, for the people,” government entities —  schools, counties, cities —  now seem to believe they have the same rights as individuals.

They hire lobbyists and write legislative platforms, which is fine when used to facilitate communication, but wrong when taxpayers’ money is used to harangue for increased taxes.

Or when their legislative platform includes supporting the expanded “right” of government to seize your property thru eminent domain, and opposes valuation lids on your home (limiting tax increase), as the county’s platform does.

Is that what taxpayers want?

Of the 577 lobbyists registered with the Secretary of State, about 70 are directly paid by taxing entities. Many more contract lobbyists are paid by government entities to provide information and directly effect the outcome of legislation to enhance government coffers.

As a taxpayer, I don’t like the idea of the government paying someone to lobby my elected officials for more money, but there is no law against it.  Nor is there a law requiring government agencies to disclose how much is paid for lobbying or how much time is spent lobbying, although you can request it of each specific entity. There should be a law requiring disclosure of monetary reimbursement along with registration. These are tax dollars, not private funds.

I recently wrote a column saying I didn’t believe the county needed to spend $329,000 for a Community Affairs Department when the survey they were quoting indicated constituents did not want increased taxes. The county currently has a PR person who does a good job, but the new department, as proposed,  would produce video news releases and press releases. After debate, the proposal did pass, but at a reduced budget of about $150,000 with only Commissioners John Toplikar and David Lindstrom opposing.

What was interesting during the commission debate were comments regarding the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech and a free press, and the state’s open records (KORA) and open meetings (KOMA) law.

One commissioner quoted free speech and said the first amendment and free press could best be served thru a county affairs department by getting the message out.

Free press and free speech are rights guaranteed individuals — not government. Freedom of Press and free speech are protections against government.

Government is not afforded the same rights as individuals; individuals are afforded rights in a democratic government.

Commissioners also indicated that for newspapers to editorialize for KOMA and KORA but be against a county-funded news bureau was contradictory.

KOMA guarantees individuals the right to attend public meetings, unless specific exemptions apply. KORA allows individuals the access to public records which are not specifically exempted. Government agencies are the custodians of records, not the owner, and neither KOMA or KORA in anyway apply to public relations departments. “Getting the spin out” is much different than the public’s right to free access.

I guess what bothers me is not the  people who work – either in elected or hired – capacity for the government. The ones I know are diligent and want to do what is best. They put in a hard day’s work and expect to get paid. I agree.

What concerns me is the changing mindset of government from public service to big business. They key word these days are “revenue enhancements.” That’s just the politically correct term for tax increases.

The trouble with growing government is someone has to pay. And at the end of the day, we’d all like to have a little change left over for tomorrow.

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