| October 8, 2012

States have a choice on membership in organizations

Recent news that Maine Governor Paul LePage has chosen to discontinue Maine’s membership in the National Governors Association (NGA) should encourage policy makers. Governor LePage has said that using the principles of zero-based budgeting and evaluating what Maine receives in return for the expense is what led him to cancel Maine’s membership in the NGA.

According to a Bangor Daily News report of Governor LaPage’s decision, Governor LaPage said some of the following in explaining his decision:

“It’s (NGA membership) too expensive for what we get out of it, it’s 60 grand a year… I wasn’t getting anything out of it.”

“This is what zero-based budgeting is all about,” he said. “This is what all the commissioners are doing and I have told them if they are getting value then I will consider keeping it in the biennial budget.”

“I get no value out of those meetings,” he said. “They are too politically correct and everybody is lovey-dovey and no decisions are ever made. There are some tough decisions that need to be made in this country and we need to start making them.”

Across the nation policymakers annually make budgeting decisions. Policymakers regularly have to resist the urge to just continue, without thorough review or analysis, state spending of taxpayer dollars on expenses like state membership of organizations that previous policymakers deemed appropriate.

In the case of Maine, according to a news story from the Maine Sun Journal, staffers from the previous administration partially justified NGA membership with the following:

“The NGA staff especially works with appropriations staff,” “Not only do they work to ensure that funding levels remain what they should be, but they guard against unfunded mandates.”

“States, regardless of ideology, have common problems,” With guidance from the NGA, “you can develop strategies to lobby federal government to help states.”

“The NGA’s role as a place where Republican and Democratic governors came together to advocate for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 helped avert a financial disaster…”

“People forget how dire it was,” “The NGA provided a forum for governors to work together to get across that message of how dire things were and to formulate a strategy to convince senators to support the recovery act.”

“The bipartisan effort that emerged via the NGA helped persuade enough U.S. senators, including Maine Republicans Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, to vote for the act, which “saved thousands of jobs,”

LePage’s decision to cease membership in the NGA is not isolated. According to reports from CNN, in February 2011, Texas, South Carolina and Idaho ceased paying dues to the NGA.

Given the prevalence of lobbying for federal funds (and the associated strings attached) by many state membership organizations, LePage’s action is a great opportunity for lawmakers to review current state memberships and taxpayer funded dues to membership organizations. As OCPA has previously recommended, a great place to start this review is Oklahoma’s membership in the National Conference of State Legislatures. Oklahoma’s membership in the NCSL costs Oklahoma taxpayers over $140,000 a year. The NCSL holds positions in direct conflict with the values held by Oklahoma’s federal and state lawmakers and the Governor. Our state’s leaders routinely advocate fiscal responsibility and greater individual freedom, but the NCSL supports more corporate welfare, supports welfare through the tax code, and stands in the way of congressional efforts to reduce federal spending.

States have a choice in the determination of what state memberships should be funded with taxpayer dollars. LePage’s actions provide the opportunity for policy makers to evaluate whether or not past and current memberships are the best choice.

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