Saturday, February 17, 2007

Who's working for whom -- part 2

We received some comments when Montana Headlines posted Who's working for whom?

The valid question was asked: why, if state employees know more about a policy than does the average Montanan (since they deal with it every day), should they not be lobbying the state government for the policies they think best?

Indeed, the most knowledgeable state employees and officials should be present at hearings, available to be called to answer questions of legislators as informational witnesses. They certainly do know more about a given policy or program than does the average Montanan.

But they are also people with personal vested interests in the policy. They also often have loyalties to a given political party (i.e. usually the Democrats), which can tempt them to advocate for a given policy simply because it is part of that party's agenda.

It is a fine line, and the fact that the practice seems to have been so widely abused in our legislative system in Montana lets Montana Headlines know that all too many people on the state payroll don't know where that line is.

There was an excellent example in today's Gazette, tucked in the major article about the House GOP's major school funding and tax relief bills. In it one finds this gem:

"This amount of property tax shifts is not sustainable," Madalyn Quinlan, chief of staff for state Superintendent of Public Instruction Linda McCulloch, said of HB701. "Depleting the state's budget will not serve our students in the long run."

Now the state Superintendent of Public Instruction certainly is the key public official when it comes to telling the legislature how much money is needed to fund Montana's public schools. She is, of course, in charge of making sure the money goes where it needs to.

But why is a representative from the Superintendent's office offering advice on taxation? Is it any business whatsoever of that office where their money comes from? Are they experts in economics and tax policy, making them the logical "go-to" department for advice in this matter?

Montana Headlines thinks not. Unless someone can offer a good explanation, this little snippet is a good example of how people on the public payroll shouldn't lobby the legislature.

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