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Ancient History? State and local governments lobby D.C. for money

by Eileen Norcross on September 28, 2009

in State Policy

The Los Angeles Times reports St. Helena, California spent $150,000 on a lobbyist (more than Philadelphia or St. Louis) to help direct more federal funds to the Napa Valley city. It isn’t an isolated case, or a new story.

The incentive to petition for  federal funds  has been in place for more than a century. And since this period, it has been argued and debated, that federal grants are a means around The 10th Amendment, imposing the policy priorities of the federal government on the states.

(Indeed, this is the basis for various sovreignty amendments, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty’s rejection of the health care bill, and Texas Governor Rick Perry’s opposition to the stimulus.)

As Chris Edwards writes in Downsizing the Federal Government, “Federal granting began during the late 19th century, expanded during the early 20th cenutry, and exploded during the 1960s….today there are 800 state and local aid programs ranging from Medicaid ($225 billion) to Boating Safety Financial Assistance ($120 million).”

In addition to imposing federal policies, grants, as intergovernmental aid, stimulate more spending on the state and local levels. Federal grants may feel like free money, but they come with strings and impose costs on state and local budgets.

Over the decades, states and local governments have grown addicted. The current revenue crisis in the states has only enhanced the temptation to petition Washington for more to fill shortfalls and maintain larger governments.

Opensecrets.org, shows state and local governments spent $41 million through June on D.C. lobbying. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania put $740,000 towards lobbying over the past decade. Boone, North Carolina dedicated $40,000 in the past three years. Even the District of Columbia’s Mayors Office spent $20,000 to lobby Capitol Hill.

How do politicians feel about their constituents hiring additional manpower to direct more federal funds to local coffers? Rep. Howard McKeon (R-Calif.), a former mayor of Santa Clarita, was at first offended when his city hired a Washington lobbyist, but found they could be helpful, “It’s kind of a team effort. I’m certainly not omnipotent.”

Before putting a lobbyist on their books, local governments might want to pause and consider the full price of spending money, to ask for money, that will lead  them to need even more money in the future.

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