Your tax dollars at work.

Anyone standing for limited government and who believes that power should be retained to the individual citizen, has long recognized that over time their efforts have trended toward failure. One of the reasons – in fact, probably the primary reason – is because taxpayers must fund both sides of every political skirmish or campaign regarding ballot issues or legislative proposals, which incrementally increase the power of government.

Roger Koopman of Bozeman is right-on in recognizing this huge imbalance of justice, in his lawsuit against the City of Bozeman. Whether the city did use public funds to lobby for their ballot issue is yet to be determined, but that public entities very commonly campaign for their causes at taxpayers’ expense while those who oppose them must dig into their own pockets, cannot be denied. Evidence of it is everywhere.

At this very moment, for example, cities and counties and colleges and other tax-funded bodies across the state, are in the process of hiring lobbyists at taxpayer expense, to lobby for them during the coming state legislature against the citizen / taxpayer.

Whether it is the state, cities, counties, schools or any other governmental entities, they advance their authority, budgets and policies at taxpayer expense through numerous methods, almost all of which stand contrary to the state’s constitution, which specifically rejects the practice.

They are seldom challenged, especially as Mr. Koopman, a Montana Public Service Commissioner, is challenging them – in court,  where decisions might shore up, even more so, the state’s constitution. That might be one reason that the City of Bozeman is trying to get Mr. Koopman’s challenge settled at a bureaucratic level rather than in court, which might also avoid a costly bureaucratic fine to the city, which again taxpayers would have to pay.

A court decision might, for example, clarify a common defense of governmental entities that claim they can spend money on “education.”  While defining “education” raises other questions – there is absolutely nothing in the state’s constitution that says government can spend taxpayer money even on educational materials and campaigns. What if a court recognized that fact?

Anyone who has been involved in fighting for a cause against government quickly recognizes this huge inequity. Some years ago, in a legislative battle over eliminating the authority of cities to control construction outside their boundaries, the contractors who were trying to convince legislators that it was regulation without representation, discovered that at every hearing they attended – and there were many including those that were at the last minute cancelled – they were confronted with an army of city planners, administrators and bureaucrats’ associations – all “on the clock” at taxpayer expense.

And, while the citizens wanting the change in law, had to forego wages and income from jobs and businesses in order to be at the state legislature, as well as cover all their own travel expenses, lodging and food —  those representing government had all of that covered, essentially by the same people they were opposing. One woman, upon realizing this inequity for the first time, lamented that even if they won (which they did) they will lose in the end given the unfairness of it all. She is undoubtedly right.

The first time I recognized this monstrous imbalance was back in the 80s, in covering an interim taxation committee meeting of the state legislature. They were discussing proposed legislation that the Department of Revenue (DOR) had written to increase taxes. The very large room with a large table at its center was packed. Chairs were lined up against the walls with men in dark suits sitting in every one of them, and many more remained standing. Come to find out, they were almost all attorneys who worked for the DOR. The only representation people of the state had were a few legislators who sat at the table with other DOR administrators, lobbyists, etc. It was also the first time this reporter heard bureaucrats talk about taxpayer money in terms of how much the state was “letting them keep,” a perspective that took my breath away. I fully understood that such language would not be used if there had actually been real taxpayers in the room.

But here was state government at work! With an army of attorneys and promoters of higher taxes, all pursuing their aims while being paid salaries and expenses by taxpayers. The bureaucrats would continue to lobby against the citizens through the legislative process, also at taxpayer expense, while anyone who objected to increasing taxes would have to do so at their own expense.

Taxpayer money that is spent to thwart citizen input and defeat policies of limited government, or any other citizen/ taxpayer opposition, is overwhelmingly huge. Besides the overt expenditures in testifying at hearings, hiring attorneys to write the laws, or lobbyists to push their agenda, there are thousands of associations representing every group of bureaucrats, be it city planners, clerk and recorders, or city administrators. Not only do taxpayer dollars pay for the membership of every public employee who belongs to these groups, but the dues are then used to hire even more lobbyists who are called upon by local and state governments when they need the appearance of being bolstered by “experts’ or more powerful lobbying.

Any strategizing and organizing of political causes is done by government employees on government time with taxpayers paying their salaries. Even when bureaucrats are supposedly abiding by the law and not taking a position, the organizing of special citizen groups to do so at their behest, is done “on the clock”, with public resources.

And, it goes on. If government has a position they want to justify, they use public dollars to pay for “independent” studies to support their position. Ever wonder why government funded studies always demonstrate the value of only one side of the public vs. private equation? When was the last government- funded study that demonstrated the value of private property rights? Or, perhaps one to demonstrate how markets, unfettered by regulations, could provide health care at less cost?

Whenever citizens challenge this inequity they must pay – as Mr. Koopman is having to do – out of their own pocket, the cost of attorney and legal fees, while government defends itself against citizens, using taxpayer funds for lawyers, legal costs and fines. In fact, whether the abuse of power is accidental or deliberate by a government official, state law protects them from being held legally responsible in any way.

To change this practice of big government being able to spend big public money to enhance its power, is probably the single most significant thing that citizens can do to protect their liberties. Thank you, Mr. Koopman.