Why Do Cities Lobby?

The Office of the State Auditor released a report today that analyzed the lobbying costs of local governments. The report was critical of the amount of money spent by Minnesota local governments on lobbying the State Legislature. A full copy of the report which details the lobbying expenditures can be found at State Auditor Awada’s website.

This press release by the State Auditor is the culmination of an annual reporting process that Minnesota local governments have been doing for several years. The State Auditor requires local governments to report their expenses on lobbying activities of state government officials. The local governments report their expenses, and then the State Auditor (regardless of the office’s occupant at the time) publicly decries the level of expenses – whatever they are.

It is a fair question, however, to ask: Why do local governments lobby the state government? Another good question, more aptly posed by local government officials, is: Why is it necessary for local governments to lobby the state government? As a taxpayer, the question I’ve always wanted to ask is: Why don’t cities, counties, school districts, and state government all work together to better coordinate the level of public services provided to Minnesota citizens?

The reason that cities, counties, and school districts feel they must lobby their state legislators is because they feel the concerns of their respective organizations are not taken into consideration sufficiently by the state legislature. They feel that if they do not speak on their own behalf, or pay others to do so, the state legislature will not care for their interests and will adopt legislation that makes governing at the local level more difficult.

The private sector is active in lobbying state legislators. They are often effective. Local governments have observed this and decided years ago that if local governments are to be considered as just another “interst group” by state legislators, that local governments might as well then behave like another interest group, at least when it comes to lobbying.

In a more perfect world, it would not be necessary for cities, counties, and school to lobby state legislators. In a more perfect world, the elected representatives of the people would gather together and divvy up the various aspects of providing services to public, and then we’d go out and perform. In my experience, we’re not making much progress towards that perfect world. Until we get there that’s alot more lobbying in our future.

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