Algona is a small town with a small dream: to build a community center.
The town of about 3,000 residents wants a stable location for its annual holiday social, Easter egg hunt and Halloween party.
This year, officials decided to do something about it: They hired a lobbyist to ask state lawmakers for $125,000 to design a building. So far they’ve paid him $18,000 – an average of about $6 per resident.
“For $6 a person, if he’s successful in getting us that $125,000 in planning and design for this community center, that’s a real good return on investment,” said Mayor Dave Hill, noting that the lobbyist has worked on other issues for his city as well.
Algona has spent more per capita on lobbying than any other Washington city this year, based on reports filed with the state Public Disclosure Commission. But it is far from the only local government lobbying the Legislature.
In fact, with about $2.5 million spent during the regular legislative session, local governments and related associations make up the biggest category of lobbying of state lawmakers through April this year.
The next-biggest category, called general business and including companies and business associations, came in at about $2.1 million.
Unions spent some $1.9 million, the insurance industry almost $950,000, and social-service organizations just more than $550,000.
Throughout the past decade, Washington’s cities, counties, ports, Indian tribes, public utility districts and school districts have spent almost $50 million lobbying Olympia, according to the PDC.
“They’re certainly a big presence here,” said Nick Federici, a longtime contract lobbyist who works mainly for social-service organizations. “And as they should be. A lot that happens here affects them.”
It’s a dynamic seen in state legislatures across the country, said Bob Stern of the Center for Governmental Studies, who called local-government lobbying “very common.”
In Washington state, each local entity comes to Olympia with different wants and needs, said lobbyists and lawmakers. But there are patterns:
Cities and counties often seek money for transportation and other projects, and as much local control of tax revenues as possible. Indian tribes focus on sovereignty issues and anything related to gambling.
And government entities are always interested in any laws that might impact their jurisdictions.
Hot topics this year have included a proposed transportation package, efforts to get a bigger share of liquor-tax revenues and discussion about how to handle large numbers of public-records requests, according to Dean Takko, D-Longview, chairman of the state House Local Government Committee.
The city of Seattle spent more on lobbying than any other local government from January through April – about $138,000. Tacoma spent about $65,000, and another 49 cities spent more than $650,000 altogether.
Seattle’s legislative agenda included the liquor-tax issue, a transportation package that includes authority to raise local funding for transit, the protection of human services such as the Housing Trust Fund and adoption of gun-control legislation.
Counties spent more than $325,000 total, with King County leading the pack at about $96,000. Pierce was second with about $90,000.
“The budget impacts local government, so we need to be represented in Olympia,” Pierce County lobbyist Jennifer Joly said.
Joly, who noted she has tracked some 2,000 bills this session, said local governments must lobby more than other groups because they can’t donate to political campaigns.
Joly is a staff lobbyist, which means she is on Pierce County’s payroll.
Staff lobbyists are the norm for Washington’s biggest cities and counties, but most local governments use contract lobbyists, who work for many different organizations.
The Indian tribes spent almost $500,000 in the first four months of the year, led by the Puyallup ($86,400) and Muckleshoot ($77,555) tribes.
Ports spent about $200,000 total. The Port of Tacoma outspent the Port of Seattle in that category, at roughly $50,000 compared with about $30,000.
What did all of this spending get?
It’s still too soon to tell. With the Legislature in its second special session, many local governments are anxiously waiting to see what gets into the final budget and any transportation package.
Among those is Algona, hoping for money for its community center.
“We’re crossing our fingers,” Mayor Hill said.