This week’s meeting of the South-Central Kansas Legislative Delegation with citizens featured a number of speakers who — while citizens, of course — are working for taxpayer-funded agencies. Many of these also have a strong lobbying presence in Topeka. The large-scale presence of these speakers at this meeting was a matter of concern for one legislator who contacted me, suggesting that so many taxpayer-funded speakers crowded out regular citizens, which is who these meetings are designed for.
Government agencies have their own meeting with legislators each year at this time in Wichita. Furthermore, many government agencies like USD 259, the Wichita public school district, have their own year-round, highly-paid lobbyists to represent them.
The taxpayer-funded group that stood out the most was United Methodist Youthville, an agency that contracts with the state to provide a variety of child protective care services. Youthville sent six speakers to this meeting, and they, one after another in tag team fashion, presented their case to the legislators.
One of the speakers for Youthville was Heather Morgan, who is listed at the Secretary of State’s office as a lobbyist for Youthville.
Undoubtedly part of the reason for Youthville’s large presence was to counter criticism of their operations, which is often a topic at the legislative forums. The Youthville representatives, which spoke very near the start of the meeting, left as soon as they had delivered their message to the legislators.
School spending advocates made their appearance. Randy Mousley, who is vice-president of United Teachers of Wichita (the teachers union), spoke in favor of more school spending — at least I think so, as his message to the legislators could be interpreted several ways. But the entire goal of the UTW, which is an affiliate of Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), is that there must be more spending on schools, and it lobbies for this quite effectively. Brent Lewis, a board member of UTW, also spoke in favor of government and school spending.
Other taxpayer-funded entities made their appearance in the persons of Mark McCain, general manager of Wichita Public Radio, and Michele Gors, President of Kansas Public Television. These heads of these at least partially taxpayer-funded organizations made their case for more state government funding.
These executives have the time and wherewithal to travel to Topeka to lobby legislators. Citizens — especially if they’re not local to Topeka — don’t have the ability to do this. And when they do, their travel is not paid for by their companies or unions.
As legislators told me, these taxpayer-funded agencies make their case — often at taxpayer expense — very well in Topeka. They shouldn’t be crowding out citizens at legislative forums.