Illinois, like many states, is broke. Its credit is even worse than that of California and its highly publicized financial quagmire. In such a fiscal environment, taxpayers are rightfully demanding that governments tighten up and are increasingly zealous about ensuring that money is spent productively. One way in which they may be surprised to find that local Illinois governments, along with those all over the country, collectively waste millions of dollars is by lobbying other governments for handouts.
Thanks to a recent report conducted by Diana Lopez of Sunshine Review, we know that local governments in Illinois have spent at least $6.2 million since 2005 on the lobbying of other governments. I say “at least” because local officials don’t like to disclose this information in a systematic and open way. The report, furthermore, only looked at the state’s 10 most populous counties, and also didn’t capture state government expenditures. So you can bet the actual numbers are much, much higher.
Individually it might be hard to blame these governments. They shouldn’t ever be spending taxpayer money lobbying for specific policies at higher levels of government, as many are, but in the case of begging for state and federal funds, they might be bringing in more money to the district than they are spending. They are therefore acting in their interests, as would be expected. The problem is the offering of these funds in the first place, because it’s unequivocally bad for taxpayers and serves as a barrier to good governance.
When state and local governments tailor policy toward capturing federal dollars, they often end up wasting significant sums of money on unproductive activities. For instance, in 2009 the state of Washington mailed $1 foodstamp checks to 250,000 residents so that it could collect millions more from the federal government. I also warned of the likelihood of similar situations like this when the “stimulus” was first passed.
Grants to the states by the federal government have grown considerably over the last few decades, and the trend shows no signs of reversal. As federal tax levels and the proliferation of state grants continue to grow, states and local governments will only increase their reliance on lobbyists to capture these funds. Not only does this waste tax dollars on both ends of the fiscal shuffle, but it reduces accountability by further separating taxpayers from tax spenders.
As Ms. Lopez discovered in the course of her research, local governments are rarely transparent when it comes to the use of taxpayer dollars to fund lobbying for more taxpayer dollars. This is all the more reason why federal and state governments should not be funneling money to lower levels of government in the first place. Federal grants to the states should be eliminated and the money returned to taxpayers through lower rates. This will leave lower-level governments with more potential tax revenue to capture if they really need it, while providing greater accountability in government and increased transparency in both the collection and use of tax dollars.
Brian Garst blogs at Conservative Compendium.