Sunday, Feb. 1, 2009 | 2 a.m.
BY THE NUMBERS
Henderson’s fees for lobbyists are high because the city has three lobbyists — two on two-year contracts and one on a one-year contract. The other cities have one-legislative-session and one-year agreements with their lobbyists.
Henderson — $533,400
Boulder City — $21,000
Las Vegas — $193,650
North Las Vegas — $127,500
Clark County — $192,000 (Includes contract for University Medical Center)
Southern Nevada’s local governments are poised to spend more than $1 million in public funding on outside lobbyists to represent their interests in Carson City, where the 2009 legislative session opens on Monday.
Henderson alone is spending $533,400 on outside lobbyists. That includes $240,000 over the next two years for the lobbying services of Richard Perkins, the city’s former police chief and a onetime Assembly speaker. The city has also retained lobbyist Renny Ashleman for the same amount. And it’s splitting the cost of a third lobbyist, Marvin Leavitt, with Las Vegas.
Statewide, the total is much higher. Although totals were not available for 2008, in 2007, a Nevada Policy Research Institute study said local governments and state-funded entities spent nearly $7.9 million on lobbyists, a figure that includes federal lobbying.
Although the hiring of lobbyists by local governments is standard procedure in Nevada and other states, one lawmaker says the practice has gotten out of control, particularly at a time of government cutbacks.
Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-Las Vegas, plans to introduce a bill that would prohibit local governments and any other state-funded entity from hiring professionals to lobby state government.
She argues that local governments have in-house lobbyists and get additional help from independent groups, such as the Nevada League of Cities and the Nevada Association of Counties, not to mention advocacy from their own state representatives.
“It’s taxpayer dollars, bottom line,” Kirkpatrick said. “You and I are paying for this every time we go to work. I want to know what lobbyists are guaranteeing for that kind of money.”
LEAVE IT TO THE PROS
Local governments counter that lobbyists are more necessary than ever, particularly in an environment where a cash-strapped state government is talking about taking money from local coffers. Officials say the flurry of bills — as many as 1,000 in a session — overwhelms their small in-house staff, which often lacks legislative experience.
“It’s a lot on our plate,” said Terri Barber, Henderson’s director of government relations. “I think (critics) need to look at what the cost would be if we didn’t have this representation. Resources could be at stake this session. We need to make sure we are showing our fiduciary responsibility to our constituents by making sure their money is protected and well spent.”
Another reason for lobbyists: Local governments in Nevada lack home rule, meaning they have to go to Carson City to get permission from legislators on routine matters, including towing cars out of county parking lots and giving refunds at airport parking garages.
Boulder City started employing an outside lobbyist in 2005. City Manager Vicki Mayes said she had acted as lobbyist while she was the city clerk, but her successor lacked legislative experience and the pace of legislation soon became overwhelming. “More and more bills were having an impact on local governments,” she said.
Boulder City has no in-house lobbying staff. This session, the city has hired lobbyist Lisa Foster for $21,000.
North Las Vegas has also hired Foster ($66,000 for 11 months), in addition to the Lionel, Sawyer and Collins law firm ($61,500 for 11 months), in part because it does not have a lead in-house lobbyist, City Manager Gregory Rose said. The position of legislative affairs director is vacant and Rose said it would remain that way because of declining revenues. The city reserves the right to terminate the lobbying contracts after the session, an option that Rose said is cheaper than maintaining a full-time city position.
Although Rose, along with the city’s director of general services and the city clerk, will lobby in Carson City, he said outside professionals are needed. “There are thousands of bills and any one of those bills could have an impact on our citizens,” Rose said. “We have to make sure we’re in a position where we can fully understand those impacts and make our positions known.”
Ted Olivas, director of Las Vegas’ Office of Administrative Services, said his city tracked more than 800 bills last session and needs outside help to see the whole picture in any given session. This year, Las Vegas has hired Robert Ostrovsky ($140,250) and shares a $106,800 contract for lobbyist Marvin Leavitt with Henderson.
Clark County awarded a $102,000 contract to Dan Hart & Associates to lobby for the county and has retained R&R Partners for $90,000 a year to lobby for University Medical Center.
ALL ABOUT ACCESS
Lobbyists say they bring experience and continuity to an often-chaotic process thick with the nuances of tax policy and government finance.
“This is a real profession. You’re not hiring us off the street,” said Ashleman, who’s been a Carson City lobbyist since 1965. “You wouldn’t expect a councilman to have knowledge of the inner workings of these matters. You can’t do it in hearings. You have to be in the back room to find people who are willing to compromise.”
Complicating things is the fact that state lawmakers don’t have staff, making lobbyists de facto aides.
“It’s very different in Nevada,” said Foster, former deputy chief of staff for Gov. Kenny Guinn. “Legislators have to do everything.”
Kirkpatrick isn’t convinced. She wonders how many lobbyists will testify before the government affairs committee she chairs to justify their contracts.
“It’s the taxpayer I represent,” she said. “I think taxpayers deserve to know what they’re getting for this.”