Local governments in Minnesota spent more than $8.3 million to lobby state government last year, according to a new state report.

Communities say the expense is one that can bring big returns.

Minneapolis alone spent almost half a million dollars on state lobbying last year, but local officials say it yielded tens of millions in funding for the city.

The 2011 lobbying season was "the best example of why it's critical to spend the right amount of resources on lobbying," said Minneapolis Council Member Elizabeth Glidden, who leads the intergovernmental relations subcommittee. "It could have had millions and millions and millions of dollars in impact on the city of Minneapolis if we did not have the right lobbying targeted at the right time."

Minneapolis paid $467,139 to three lobbying firms and three city employees who lobbied the Legislature last year.

What did the city get for its money? By Glidden's count, the lobbyists helped push a change in the public employee pension system that will save Minneapolis taxpayers $20 million this year alone, plus $4.5 million in state funding to repair the Plymouth Avenue bridge and $4 million in state aid in the aftermath of the tornado that struck the North Side.

Minneapolis' lobbying efforts overlapped with those from Hennepin County, the Minneapolis schools, the airport, government agencies like the parks board and the vigorous lobbying going on across the river and in surrounding communities.

"The operation and funding of local governments can be greatly affected by decisions made by the state Legislature," State Auditor Rebecca Otto noted in the 386-page, 2011 Local Government Lobbying Services Report, released Monday. "Therefore, it is understandable that those affected by these decisions would want to have representation during the legislative process."

But opponents say taxpayers' pockets take a beating twice: From the money local governments lay out to get more money, and from the additional funds and regulations that emanate from the Capitol.

"Truly, it's outrageous that we have local governments spending millions of dollars trying to influence the outcome of the Legislature," said former state Rep. Phil Krinkie, now president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota. "The citizens of Minnesota are very ill served by local units of government spending millions [to encourage] more spending, more government, more regulation."

In all, 82 local governments directly employed or contracted with lobbyists last year. Eleven of them racked up six-figure lobbying bills, including Hennepin County, which spent $246,214; the Metropolitan Airport Commission spent $172,105, Anoka County spent $170,320, the city of St. Paul spent $161,098, Ramsey County spent $148,375, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board spent $127,527 and the Metro Sports Facilities Commission spent $120,338.

The Minneapolis school district, which has its own lobbyist, spent $74,550.

The communities that couldn't afford or weren't inclined to hire lobbyists directly pooled their resources through groups like the Minnesota Association of Townships.

Last year, Woodrow Township in Beltrami County -- population 73 -- paid $286 in dues to the township association. Seven percent of that total, or $20, went to lobbying the Legislature on the township's behalf. Local governments spent $10.3 million on association dues, which in turn fueled $4.3 million worth of state lobbying.

Jennifer Brooks • 651-925-5049