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Local gov’t lobbying is not always a waste

Whether through its power provider, dues to three city associations, or in direct payments to a lobbying firm, Detroit Lakes is among the leaders when it comes to local government spending on lobbying the Legislature.

According to a just-released State Auditor’s Office report on government lobbying last year:

Detroit Lakes spent $13,383 on a contract with Flaherty & Hood, P.A., which earned $894,740 lobbying the Legislature last year.

Detroit Lakes also paid $10,784 for lobbying through a percentage of dues paid to three organizations it belongs to; the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, the League of Minnesota Cities, and the Minnesota Environmental Science & Economic Review Board. About half the dues were used for lobbying by those groups.

The Western Minnesota Municipal Power Agency, whose 61 members include the cities of Detroit Lakes, Lake Park and Moorhead, spent $206,390 on lobbying in 2013, the third-most of any Minnesota government entity.

The Detroit Lakes School District paid $3,014 for lobbying; money that came out of dues paid to the Minnesota Rural Education Association and the Minnesota School Board Association. About a third of those dues went for lobbying.

That’s a lot of money, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it was money wasted. Things can move very fast in the Legislature, especially as the session is wrapping up, and if you don’t have somebody, yes, a lobbyist, there to argue your case and tell your story to lawmakers, it’s easy to get left in the dust.

Local Government Aid is one example. The program helps outstate cities stay strong and competitive, particularly regional centers like Detroit Lakes.

LGA has long been a priority for the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities and its lobbying firm, Flaherty & Hood.

The program, once targeted for the scrapheap, is bringing $782,000 to Detroit Lakes this fiscal year, up $79,000 from the year before. That’s a big win for the city.

How about the big bucks spent by the Western Minnesota Municipal Power Agency?

Last year, the Legislature adopted a mandate on investor-owned utilities in the state that requires them to produce 1.5 percent of their electricity from solar power by 2020.

Municipal utilities and cooperative power companies successfully lobbied for an exemption.

Otter Tail Power Co. of Fergus Falls, one of the state’s four investor-owned utilities subject to the solar mandate, predicts it will trigger a rate increase of 3 to 5 percent.

That exemption was a big win for the Western Minnesota Municipal Power Agency, and its ratepayers.

It’s easy to criticize money spent by local government on lobbying, but don’t forget to tally up the extra funds lobbyists bring in, and the money locals don’t have to spend because lobbyists did their job well.