Chatter: Local Governments Pay More For Lobbyists

Minnesota taxpayers last year funded more than $9 million in local government lobbying expenses.

That is, local governments used tax money to pay lobbyists to get the Legislature to vote a certain way.

The state auditor’s office released figures showing the 2016 spending topped 2015 by $183,353. What the report did not indicate is that 2015 was a year in which the Legislature passed a two-year budget, something that normally attracts far more lobbying interests than in years like 2016.
Some of the $9 million went to organizations to lobby on behalf of local governments, groups such as the Association of Minnesota Counties and the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities.

The report indicated 106 governments used their own staffers or paid professional lobbyists to fight for their causes. That amount was nearly $5 million, up about $1 million since 2012. Relatively few local governments use staff members to lobby lawmakers, but auditor data show 89 percent of local government lobbyists are paid via contract, mostly lobbyists who have other clients at the state Capitol.

Local governments sometimes hire a lobbyist for one issue while other times use them for a variety of issues.

It no surprise that cities like St. Paul and Minneapolis spend the most for lobbyists, but the No. 5 spender last year was St. Louis County at $185,441.

The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, a state agency that governs U.S. Bank Stadium, spent $108,005 to lobby state officials last year.

As usual, the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities spent the most on lobbying of any association, $904,232. A group pushing many of the same issues, The Greater Minnesota Partnership, spent $140,118.

The League of Minnesota Cities was second at $656,010. No other group spent more than $400,000 in the year for lobby activities.

Lobbying firm Flaherty and Hood collected $913,679 for lobbying, mostly from the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities. Other lobbying groups fell far behind Flaherty.

The full report is at http://tinyurl.com/MNlobbying.

Not President Franken

National political reporters more and more are mentioning U.S. Sen. Al Franken as a presidential possibility, but he denied that Friday on a Twin Cities radio station.

When WCCO’s Dave Lee was interviewing the Minnesota Democrat, the question came up about his interest in the White House. Franken said a politician must “want to be president,” indicating he does not fall in that category. Instead, he said, he plans to seek a third Senate term in 2020.

Talk of Franken has increased in recent months as he has become more outspoken after serving his first six-year term quietly to give people time to set aside his career as comedian, satirist and Saturday Night Live star and writer. Many reports have listed him as a potential presidential candidate.

Franken’s comment leaves U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, another Democrat, as the only Minnesotan regularly mentioned for presidential race. She says she is running for re-election in near year, but talk continues to increase that she may be interested in a 2020 presidential bid.

A biting dental report

A federal agency says Minnesota children receive dental services at an unacceptably low rate.

The state Human Services department recently received a letter from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services with the news. Unless the state improves dental services, federal funds may disappear.

The federal agency gave Minnesota 90 days to submit a plan for improving dental care access for Minnesota’s children enrolled in Medicaid.

The federal Medicaid program, known as Medical Assistance in Minnesota, provides free medical care for low-income people.

In 2015, 41 percent of Minnesota youths in Medical Assistance received any dental service, below the national 50 percent average.

“Sadly, right now, Minnesota should be too embarrassed to smile,” said Carmelo Cinqueonce of the Minnesota Dental Association. “Minnesota has been put on notice that our low-income children are not receiving the dental services they need, and it is critical that the Legislature act this session to improve access across the state.”

Dayton on military council

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton is to return to a council that advises federal officials on the National Guard.

The White House has announced President Donald Trump intends to reappoint Dayton to a two-year Council of Governors term. The council advises the secretary of defense, secretary of homeland security and the White House Homeland Security Council on National Guard issues.

“The council serves as the primary link between the nation’s governors and the U.S. departments of Defense and Homeland Security,” Dayton said.