Taxpayer-funded lobbying associations and public pensions

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Taxpayer-funded lobbying associations and public pensions are connected in that lobbying associations sometimes have public pension reforms as legislative priorities. Taxpayer-funded lobbying associations are comprised of state and local government officials and serve as an aggregation of the interests of governments. The groups lobby on behalf of their members' interests.

The type of pension reforms sought out by taxpayer-funded associations vary by state. Some groups work to solve state-wide issues and to fight unfunded mandates. In Arizona, one group specifically opposes a way of calculating pension benefits by using age plus years of service (see pension formulas).

Illinois pension crisis

One issue the Northwest Municipal Conference is focused on is the pension crisis. Because mandatory pension payments to some employees hit hard at municipal budgets, the issue is of particular importance to the group. The group established the Pension Fairness Coalition,[1] which has a list of recommended compromises municipalities and public workers must adopt in order to solve the problem.[2][3] The coalition includes the Illinois Municipal League, the Illinois City/County Management Association[4] and the Illinois Chamber of Commerce. Local groups, like the Lake County Municipal League,[5] are also members of the Pension Fairness Coalition.

The Illinois Municipal League is concerned by the ability of the General Assembly to increase municipal employee pension benefits without providing the funds to pay for the increases.[6] In 2009, the Illinois General Assembly passed Senate Bill 364, which imposed reforms on public pension funds in Illinois, and House Bill 3606 in the spring of 2009, which increases the pension benefits of municipal employees that retired prior to July 1, 1977.[7]

In 2007, the Illinois Municipal League published a study entitled "Fiscal Analysis of the Downstate Police, Fire and IMRF Pension Systems."[8] The study indicated that the financial health of over 600 non-Chicago municipal pension funds is endangered by rapidly escalating debt. As a result of this study, the Illinois Municipal League successfully advocated in support of House Bill 5088 during the 2008 legislative session.[9] The legislation contained several pension reforms, including significant ethics, disclosure, and transparency provisions for the employee-controlled municipal public safety pension funds.

Municipal control of pensions

In 2009, the Florida League of Cities supported legislation that would allow insurance premium revenues from pension plans of firefighters and police officers to pay for existing or new benefits. It opposed legislation that would diminish municipal control over municipal employee pension plan management and funding.[10]

Pension formulas

The League of Arizona Cities and Towns opposes the elimination of "age plus years of service" formulas in public pension plans.[11]

Are government lobbying associations "public?"

Whether government sector lobbying associations are public affects whether they are subject to public records laws and other disclosure laws. In two cases, the members of government sector lobbying associations were members of state pension plans, lending proof to the view that the associations are, in fact, public.

In Fair Share Housing Center v. New Jersey League of Municipalities, a New Jersey court of appeals ruled that League of Municipalities is not a public body.[12] The New Jersey League of Municipalities denied a public records request for documents detailing its opposition to local policy, and the court agreed that the organization did not fall under the state's public records law.

Kevin Walsh, the attorney for the Fair Share Housing Center, group that sent the records request, disagrees with the ruling and claims that they will appeal it. He told the press, "We think that an entity that is made up of 566 mayors, is funded by municipal taxes and has employees who are in the pension system should be subject to the sunshine that our public records laws provided."

In Washington, Telford v. Thurston County Board of Commissioners established a four prong test for determining if a private agency fell under the Washington Public Records Act.[13] Until 1977 the employees of Washington State Association of County Officials and Washington Association of Counties were participants in the states retirement pension plan and at the time of trial many still were.