Local governments spend big to lobby Legislature
Washington’s cities, counties, ports, Indian tribes, public utility districts and school districts spent about $2.5 million lobbying state lawmakers during the regular legislative session — more than any other group.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Local government spending on lobbying state lawmakers
Top government type, January-April 2013
Indian tribes: $490,779
Utility districts: $128,687
Top individual governments, January-April 2013
City of Seattle: $138,092*
King County: $96,653*
Pierce County: $90,537*
Puyallup Tribe of Indians: $86,400
Washington Indian Gaming Association: $79,319
*Estimated amounts for month of April are included in total
Source: Public Disclosure Commission
Algona is a small town with an equally small dream: to build a community center.
Located just south of Auburn, the community of 3,000 residents wants a stable location for its annual holiday social, Easter egg hunt and Halloween party.
This year, officials decided to do something about it: They hired a lobbyist to ask state lawmakers for $125,000 to design a building. So far they’ve paid him $18,000 — an average of nearly $6 for each resident.
“For $6 a person, if he’s successful in getting us that $125,000 in planning and design for this community center, that’s a real good return on investment,” said Mayor Dave Hill, noting the lobbyist has worked on other issues for his city as well.
Algona has spent more per capita on lobbying than any other Washington city this year, based on reports filed with the state Public Disclosure Commission. But it is far from the only local government lobbying the Legislature.
In fact, with about $2.5 million spent during the regular legislative session, local governments and related associations make up the biggest category of lobbying of state lawmakers through April this year.
The next-biggest category, called general business and including various companies and business associations, came in at about $2.1 million.
Unions spent some $1.9 million, the insurance industry nearly $950,000 and social-service organizations just more than $550,000.
Over the past decade, Washington’s cities, counties, ports, Indian tribes, public utility districts and school districts have spent nearly $50 million lobbying Olympia, according to the PDC.
“They’re certainly a big presence here,” said Nick Federici, a longtime contract lobbyist who works mainly for social-service organizations. “And as they should be. A lot that happens here affects them.”
It’s a dynamic seen in state legislatures across the country, said Bob Stern of the Center for Governmental Studies, who called local-government lobbying “very common.”
In Washington state, each local entity comes to Olympia with different wants and needs, said lobbyists and lawmakers. But there are patterns:
Cities and counties often seek money for transportation and other projects, and as much local control of tax revenues as possible. Indian tribes focus on sovereignty issues and anything related to gambling.
And all government entities are interested in any laws that may impact their jurisdictions.
Hot topics this year have included a proposed transportation package, efforts to get a bigger share of liquor-tax revenues and discussion about how to handle large numbers of public-records requests, according to Dean Takko, D-Longview, chairman of the state House Local Government Committee.
The city of Seattle spent more on lobbying than any other local government from January through April — about $138,000. Tacoma spent around $65,000, and another 49 cities spent more than $650,000 altogether.
Seattle’s legislative agenda included the liquor-tax issue, a transportation package that includes authority to raise local funding for transit, the protection of human services such as the Housing Trust Fund and adoption of gun-control legislation.
Counties spent more than $325,000 total, with King County leading the pack at about $96,000. Pierce was second with around $90,000.
“The budget impacts local government, so we need to be represented in Olympia,” Pierce County lobbyist Jennifer Joly said.
Joly, who noted she has tracked some 2,000 bills this session, said local governments must lobby more than other groups because they can’t donate to political campaigns.
Joly is a staff lobbyist, which means she is on Pierce County’s payroll.
Staff lobbyists are the norm for Washington’s biggest cities and counties, but most local governments use contract lobbyists, who work for many different organizations.
The Indian tribes spent nearly $500,000 in the first four months of the year, led by the Puyallup ($86,400) and Muckleshoot ($77,555) tribes.
Ports spent nearly $200,000 total. The Port of Tacoma outspent the Port of Seattle in that category, with roughly $50,000 compared with about $30,000.
What did all of this spending get?
It’s still too soon to tell. With the Legislature in its second special session, many local governments are anxiously waiting to see what makes it into the final budget and any transportation package.
Among those is Algona, hoping for money for its community center.
“We’re crossing our fingers,” Mayor Hill said.
Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal