The Public Eye

Why is Sacramento spending so much on lobbyists?

Steinberg has 'no guarantee, but a real chance' on fighting homelessness

In June 2017, the Sacramento mayor spoke about a comprehensive approach to help homeless people in the city.
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In June 2017, the Sacramento mayor spoke about a comprehensive approach to help homeless people in the city.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg likely has more political clout at the Capitol than any Sacramento mayor in recent history. He’s been an assemblyman, president of the state Senate and an attorney at a powerful law firm.

Yet even with his connections, the city of Sacramento is spending more on Capitol lobbyists than nearly every other city in the state.

Recent filings with the Secretary of State show the city spent $226,077 on lobbying in the first six months of 2017. The only cities that spent more were Los Angeles and Redding.

Sacramento’s lobbyist tab was the highest it’s been through June 30 since it plunked down $244,542 during the same time period in 2006. It’s also a significant increase over the amount the city spent in recent years; this year’s figure was a 45 percent jump from 2016.

This year’s bill included an $80,735 payment to the League of California Cities, a statewide advocacy group that collects dues from cities around the state. It also included about $67,000 in payments to agencies that lobby on water-related issues and $66,750 to the city’s lobbyist, Emanuels Jones and Associates.

The city has lobbied on several key issues this year, including the state budget, affordable housing and the $52 billion gas tax and vehicle registration increase to fund road upgrades. It also lobbied on more than two dozen bills before the Assembly and Senate, most pertaining to water issues.

Steinberg’s office said the lobbying efforts helped the city land $32 million in federal funding that will be matched with another $32 million in local funds to be used for homeless outreach and services through a program called Whole Person Care. Sacramento is the only city in California to receive the funding, which is administered by the state.

The mayor said he “isn’t in there (the Capitol) a lot,” but has used his connections at times since taking office in December. And he said the city has vital work to conduct in the Capitol.

“Number one, I can’t do everything alone,” he said. “And number two, what I brought here (to the mayor’s job) is an ambitious agenda. We’re running on all cylinders.”

The city of Sacramento’s lobbying expenses are high, but likely necessary in the competitive environment of state politics, said Sacramento political consultant Steve Maviglio.

“With a powerful legislative delegation and a new mayor who knows more than just about anyone how to shake the trees in the Capitol to get things done, it is legitimate that taxpayers should be wondering why we’re spending so much on lobbying,” Maviglio said.

“But as the saying goes, ‘If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,’” he added. “The capital region is competing with every other jurisdiction for budget money and on policy. The metric needs to be the results these lobbying efforts are getting, and the jury is very much out on that.”

Local governments are spending more on lobbying at the Capitol this year than any other special interest group, records show. Cities, counties and special districts spent a combined $24.3 million on lobbying through the first six months of the year, according to Secretary of State data first reported by the Los Angeles Times.

The League of California Cities has spent $746,152 on lobbying this year. Los Angeles County spent $745,577, leading all local governments.

Sacramento’s total of $226,007 is less than the $375,294 reported on the Secretary of State’s website because the city double-counted some expenditures in its first and second quarter filings. Other governments in the Sacramento region did not appear to make the same error.

Local governments and special districts in the Sacramento region have combined to spend more than $1.2 million on lobbying in 2017, records show. Sacramento County, the largest government in the area, has been the biggest spender with a tab of $347,522.

While that places the county among the biggest lobbying spenders in the state, that figure is also a significant decrease compared to recent years, figures show. The county reported spending more than $1 million in both 2015 and 2016.

Sacramento County Supervisor Don Nottoli said it’s important for the county to participate in conversations at the state level because changes in transportation, land use, water, social services and prison policy can have huge impacts at the county level. For instance, he said health care costs at the county jail began rising after the state shifted responsibility for low-level offenders from state prisons to counties.

“Sometimes it’s budgetary, sometimes it’s policy and sometimes it’s requirements that seem innocuous, but then you look and you’ve inherited a new obligation,” he said.

Ryan Lillis: 916-321-1085, @Ryan_Lillis

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