Tucson outspends Phoenix on AZ lobbyists

Posted on April 12, 2007 | Type: In the News
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PHOENIX -- Tucson continues to spend more public money on state lobbyists than the larger city of Phoenix at least on paper.

Tucson spent $239,880 on lobbyists and gifts to lawmakers in 2006, a drop from the $275,585 it spent in 2005, according to the most recent numbers reported by the Arizona Secretary of State's Office.

City officials say the money is paying off in the form of favorable legislation and a larger share of state revenue for things like Downtown redevelopment and transportation.

Meanwhile, despite having a population nearly three times the size of Tucson, Phoenix continued to spend less.

Phoenix spent $65,490 on state lobbying efforts in 2006, down from $83,000 in 2005.

"We're far from the Capitol literally and figuratively," said Mary Okoye, the city's chief lobbyist. "We have a bigger burden than the city of Phoenix. They can walk to the Capitol. We can't."

In previous years, Tucson has spent the most of any city in the state. This year, numbers from Mesa, third-largest city in the state, are not yet available.

The numbers are self reported to the state by municipalities. While officials are required to list who their registered lobbyists are, they are not required to itemize how the money is spend and what specific legislation they lobby.

Tucson officials have challenged the accuracy of the state-reported numbers, since Phoenix doesn't claim the full salaries of its lobbyists.

Phoenix does have a larger overall budget for government relations and more staff than Tucson but has said that less than half the office's time is devoted to lobbying the Legislature.

Earlier this year, lawmakers discussed barring government agencies, cities and towns from hiring lobbyists. The bill received initial approval in a Senate committee but has not come up for a vote in the full Senate.

Spending taxpayer money on lobbyists can lead to government advocating against the wishes of citizens, said Darcy Olsen, president and CEO of the Goldwater Institute, a Phoenix think tank that advocates limited government.

"It distorts the democratic process," she said. "The voices should come from the citizens rather than government, and right now the lobbyists have the upper hand."

But Okoye said that's impractical, since Tucsonans don't have regular access to the Capitol.

Pima County spent roughly $152,000 on lobbying. That's also down from the $173,000 it spent in 2005.

The bulk of Tucson's lobbying budget went to pay salaries: roughly $220,000 last year. About $15,000 was spent on travel. Another $170 was spent on flowers for lawmakers and Gov. Janet Napolitano.

On federal lobbying, which is monitored by the Federal Election Commission, Tucson spent $120,000 in 2006. The city water department spent another $80,000.

In comparison, Phoenix spent $315,000 on federal lobbying, and an additional $80,000 was spent by the city's transit system.

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