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Local governments increase lobby spending by 4%

A new report says local governments spent $8.8 million to lobby state legislators last year as their state allowances were cut.

The report released Wednesday by State Auditor Rebecca Otto says cities, counties, school districts and other local government agencies spent nearly 4 percent more on lobbying in 2009 than they did in 2008.

However, local leaders contend the money is a key way to stay informed and active of decisions and actions in the legislature.

“For us, it’s how can we work with other governmental entities to help us accomplish our goals,” said Austin City Administrator Jim Hurm. “That’s getting money at the state level. Do you call that lobbying? I guess it is, but from my perspective it’s not the same kind of lobbying.”

About half the $8.8 million in spending came directly from local governments, with top spenders including Minneapolis, St. Paul, Hennepin County and the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which has been pushing for a new Vikings stadium.

The other half came from associations such as the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, the League of Minnesota Cities and the Minnesota School Board Association.

The city of Austin paid $45,501 last year in dues for the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities and $32,124 — 70.6 percent — of the funds were reportedly used for lobbying. The city also paid $15,152 in dues for the League of Minnesota Cities. About 25 percent of the funds — $3,864 — went toward lobbying.

Mower County spent $13,449 in 2009 as dues to be part of the Minnesota Association of Counties. About $4,035 of the money — 30 percent — was spent on lobbying.

Hurm said local governments vying for money at the state and federal levels is different than lobbyists from the private industry.

“This is local government working with and keeping an eye on the other levels of government, which has a dramatic effect,” Hurm said.

The money isn’t simply shoveled out to lobbyists. Government agencies pay yearly dues to associations like the League of Minnesota Cities for a variety of services, one important one being a voice in St. Paul and Washington, D.C.

Not only do officials with such agencies speak on behalf of communities like Austin, but they also inform city leaders of changes and issues that could affect things like Local Government Aid, Hurm said.

“They represent the position of local government, which is important,” Hurm said.

As government aid has recently been reduced for cities, counties and schools, Hurm said it’s important to have such groups working at the state and federal levels. For example, Austin city leaders recently sought funding for flood mitigation efforts.

Austin Public Schools Independent District 492 paid a total of $9,631 in dues to the Minnesota Rural Education Association and the Minnesota School Board Association. A combined $3,952 of the dues went toward lobbying.

While Krenz said the school board association has a paid lobbyist, he noted the group is vital to keeping school districts active in the legislature.

“They try to make sure that the laws being considered at the state meet the needs of the school district,” he said.

Krenz said one voice has little impact in modern politics, and groups like the Minnesota Rural Education Association also serve as a way for school districts across the state to work collectively.

Local governments and their associations are required to report lobbying expenditures to the state auditor annually.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report