Local governments in Minnesota spent more than $8.7 million to lobby state lawmakers in 2018, according to a report released Thursday by the state auditor.
The total, roughly the same amount that was spent the previous year, represents just a small slice of the more than $60 million private companies, unions and other entities spent to influence lawmakers in 2018. But the figure provides a snapshot of the money local governments spend to influence state legislation on issues ranging from school funding and road repair to water quality standards.
Minnesota is what's known as a "Dillon's Rule" state, which means local governments must rely mostly on the authority the Legislature grants them. Given the complexity of the issues at hand, officials leading cities, counties, school boards and other local government entities typically turn to seasoned professionals to help push their agendas and sort through complicated legal and regulatory issues.
Securing that help adds up. Governments representing the Twin Cities, including Hennepin and Ramsey counties, spent more than $1 million in 2018. Hennepin County topped the list of individual government spenders, reporting $331,564 in lobbying in 2018. The city of Minneapolis ($274,339) and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board ($215,762) rounded out the top three. St. Paul spent $208,796, while Ramsey County reported $159,356 in lobbying expenditures.
In all, 113 local governments hired outside lobbyists or in-house staff to represent their interests in St. Paul. But most also rely on local government associations that represent entities ranging from cities to school boards.
Those groups, fueled by member dues and public funds, were among the biggest spenders in 2018. Two such organizations — the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities and the League of Minnesota Cities — dropped more than $700,000 apiece in 2018.
"When most people think of lobbying activity, they think of contract or full-time lobbyists," State Auditor Julie Blaha said in a statement. "While over 100 entities lobby this way, most local government units lobby through membership in one or more associations."
Local governments and the lobbyists who represent them argue the spending is necessary to protect their best interests at the Capitol, but such contracts have drawn criticism in the past.
"Lobby for local government aid so they can pay for a lobbyist for more local government aid," Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, told the Star Tribune in 2016. "It's insulting that we need to hire a lobbyist when we're elected to make sure our cities are in great shape."