Saturday, April 19, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Governments lobbying government. Is there a problem here?

As we know, the decisions made in Harrisburg have a huge impact on cities, towns, and counties across Pennsylvania. In Beaver County, located at the Western edge of the state, local elected officials decided they needed to step up their efforts to secure state funding for various projects. Last year, they hired a big-time lobbyist to help get the dough flowing.

Governments lobbying government. Is there a problem here?

As we know, the decisions made in Harrisburg have a huge impact on cities, towns, and counties across Pennsylvania. In Beaver County, located at the Western edge of the state, local elected officials decided they needed to step up their efforts to secure state funding for various projects. Last year, they hired a big-time lobbyist to help get the dough flowing.

In May 2009, commissioners agreed to pay Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney $36,000 over the next year to lobby in the state capital for federal stimulus money. At the time, [chairman of the county commissioners Tony] Amadio said the firm would navigate through the state bureaucracy to secure stimulus money and, potentially, grants for the county.

The move was harshly criticized by the county controller, who said that elected officials should be in charge of lobbying efforts. However, Amadio claims that the contract is well worth the cost.

A year later, Amadio said the lobbyists have provided county officials with unprecedented access to decision-makers in Harrisburg. As an example, Amadio pointed to a meeting commissioners got with state Rep. Dwight Evans, D-Philadelphia, the House Appropriations Committee majority chairman.

“I’ve never gotten into that level (of government) until we got the firm,” he said.

What kind of funding has the firm helped get? Well, it's more than $300,000 total.

With Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney’s assistance, Amadio said the county has received $212,000 for a new boiler at the county-owned Friendship Ridge nursing home in Brighton Township and $61,000 for security lighting in the courthouse parking garage.

Spending $36,000 to get $300,000 seems like a pretty good return. Still, we can't help but wonder if this arrangement is problematic. Why does spending money on lobbyists get you so much more clout in Harrisburg?

It should be noted that Philadelphia and many other counties also have lobbyists in the capitol. We understand that securing funds from the state is something of an arms race. If Beaver County didn't hire lobbyists, it would be at a distinctive disadvantage. But in theory, our elected officials try to make the best policy decision for their district and the entire state. The successful use of lobbyists here gives off the impression that these choices are really driven by money and politics.

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Every year, city government spends slightly more than $4 billion. Where does all that money come from? More importantly, where does it go? Are we getting the most bang for our tax buck? “It's Our Money” is a joint project between Philadelphia Daily News and WHYY, funded by the William Penn Foundation, designed to answer these questions.

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