Lobbying tab $12.9 million — and counting

Unsettled budget likely to drive final tally much higher as Legislature’s regular session comes to close this week

bshannon@theolympian.comApril 22, 2013 

  • TOP 10 LOBBYING GROUPS

    Through March 31:

    1. Service Employees International Union 775 Healthcare — $188,068

    2. Washington Education Association — $137,199

    3. Washington Federation of State Employees — $133,683

    4. Washington Health Care Association — $131,209

    5. Boeing — $110,060

    6. Washington State Hospital Association — $109,096

    7. Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties — $101,475

    8. Association of Washington Business — $97,429

    9. Washington State Association for Justice — $95,265

    10. Community Health Network of Washington — $91,334

Interest groups and public agencies reported spending more than $12.9 million to lobby the Legislature through March, topped by outlays from businesses, labor unions, local governments and health-advocacy groups.

Those numbers are on record at the state Public Disclosure Commission in lobbying reports filed at the April 15 deadline for spending through March 31.

The figures will climb — partly because some reports went into the mail at the April 15 deadline and are still being tabulated, and partly because the battle over the state budget is continuing.

With just a week left in a 105-day regular session, the biggest issue still dividing lawmakers is how to raise new revenue to close a budget gap and put additional money into K-12 schools to answer a state Supreme Court ruling.

Expect groups targeted by House Democrats for tax hikes — including breweries, car dealers and service businesses — to step up their spending. So will groups advocating for closure of tax exemptions. A Friday hearing on a tax bill that raises most of the $1.3 billion the Democrats are proposing drew dozens of representatives of businesses, labor unions, education organizations and other advocacy groups.

Among the groups seeking tax increases is Service Employees International Union 775 Healthcare, which ranks No. 1 so far in total spending. It is urging passage of a budget that pays for 5 percent pay raises for home-care workers in 2013 and 2014.

SEIU reported spending $188,068 — more than $151,000 of it in expenses to bring workers to the Capitol rather than salaries for lobbyists.

“SEIU 775 had a vigorous program in 2013 turning out members to share their stories of living in poverty,” said Jackson Holtz, spokesman for the union that represents thousands of home care workers. “... We had more members this year at our biggest lobby day in February, and we booked hundreds of meetings with lawmakers throughout the session.”

Budgets from both the Republican-steered Senate and the Democrat-controlled House already contain those pay raises for home-care workers, which an arbitrator recommended last year. The cost to fulfill the SEIU contract and cover all home-care workers paid through Medicaid is almost $147 million.

The Washington Education Association ranked No. 2 in lobbying expenses with an outlay of $137,199. That sum included $39,912 for radio and online ads to advocate for better funding of public schools.

But the union, which represents 82,000 teachers and other school employees, isn’t done.

“We’ll be reporting more advertising expenditures to the PDC,” Rich Wood, WEA spokesman, said Friday. He was unable to say how much more the WEA has spent in April, but the union is prepared to keep spending if lawmakers go into special session.

“In the debate over school funding and policy, it’s crucial for lawmakers to hear the voice and perspective of teachers and school support staff,” Wood said. A theme of WEA’s lobbying is that “Washington’s kids are packed into the fourth-most-overcrowded classrooms in the country, and educators have gone four years without a state-funded salary cost-of-living adjustment.”

So far, lawmakers in the Senate are ignoring the call for smaller class sizes, and both the House and the Senate budgets leave out COLAs while authors of both budgets tout they are putting at least $1 billion of new money into K-12 public schools.

Many business groups also are lobbying on education issues — including the Association of Washington Business, which spent $97,429.03 and ranked No. 8 overall.

In addition to pushing for education accountability and targeted spending on science, technology and engineering education, AWB also wants to limit the Legislature’s reach for new cash — including Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposal to make permanent the temporary tax surcharge on service businesses that is supposed to expire in June.

On the other side of that issue is the Washington Federation of State Employees, which ranked No. 3 for overall spending at $133,683. Half of that went for salaries of staff and half for expenses as the largest state-employee union pushed for approval of labor contracts.

One big expense — more than $48,650 — was tied to efforts by the Rebuilding Our Economic Future Coalition that sponsored a rally Feb. 18 to promote action to raise revenue for state school and health services. The federation is likely to ramp up its efforts — “especially in special session,” spokesman Tim Welch said.

Other groups making significant outlays this year are health care organizations and business groups such as builders and Boeing.

Listed No. 4 overall was the Washington Health Care Association, which spent $131,209 representing nursing facilities affected by changes in the state Medicaid program.

No. 5 was Boeing, which spent $110,060 focusing on transportation taxes, workers compensation, education reform and “unmanned aerial vehicles,” or drones.

A few groups that spend for grass-roots lobbying also filed reports. Among them is the $62,500 spent by the End the Beer Tax Now! Campaign financed by the Washington Beer and Wine Distributors Association. The group is fighting beer tax proposals that were part of Friday’s tax hearing, and it also staged an anti-tax rally on the Capitol steps.

Government groups including cities, counties, tribes and ports reported spending a total of $1.36 million for lobbying. The biggest on the list was the Kalispel Tribe near Spokane, which spent $55,352 to lobby on gaming and other issues; the tribe ranked No. 21 overall.

A few state agencies have gone so far as to hire their own private-sector lobbyists. The state Treasurer’s Office reported paying $14,330 to Capitol Solutions during the first three months of the year.

Chris McGann, spokesman for Treasurer Jim McIntire, said the agency contracts with the firm because owner Marcia Fromhold is an expert in education finance. “We feel at this time there are some profound issues connected to education finance,” McGann said.

Fromhold has an “ear-to-the-ground connection with the issues” so that McIntire “doesn’t have to be in the room all the time” talking to lawmakers, McGann said.

“I think there is a subtle distinction between what we would expect from our lobbyist than what Boeing or (other businesses) would expect from their lobbyist,” McGann said. The agency’s goal is to make sure that laws adopted by the Legislature are “workable.’’

Capitol Solutions also represents the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and was paid about $13,450 through March. Spokeswoman Kristen Jaudon said the agency has experienced significant reductions in staff during the past four years. Hiring an expert in education policy “is a way for us to preserve staff and save money,” Jaudon said.

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688 bshannon@theolympian.com

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