Commuting to Olympia just isn’t hacking it.
So to make sure Spokane doesn’t get left behind during the 1995 legislative session, City Council members are considering hiring a lobbyist.
“We need to have somebody who really understands what’s going on over there,” said Councilman Joel Crosby, the council’s legislative liaison. “The city is really a creature of the state. What they do affects us so much.”
For nearly 13 years, a Spokane staff person has spent two to three days of every week in Olympia during the 15-week session.
Sweeping changes in the Legislature, as well as the state’s growing tendency to shift responsibilities to city and county governments, makes a commuting representative less workable, said Bill Pupo, assistant city manager.
“Someone has to be there constantly to protect our interests,” Pupo said. “If we aren’t, someone else will be.”
Pupo already has lined up a $20,000 contract with Jackie White of Olympia and Bob Mack of Tacoma. The two already lobby legislators for the Spokane Transit Authority, and the cities of Tacoma and Bellevue.
The proposed one-year contract is expected to go before the council for approval in two weeks.
If he gets the go-ahead, Mack, a former state assistant attorney general, would concentrate his efforts on environmental issues, Pupo said. White, a former policy analyst for the Association of Washington Cities, would stay tuned to public safety, human services and finance areas.
The two could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
The contract’s cost would be offset by returning an assistant city attorney to his regular job full time. For the past three years, Mike Piccolo has spent a fourth of his time in Olympia at a cost to taxpayers of about $18,000, including salary, travel and lodging.
Councilman Chris Anderson objected to the expenditure when it was brought to the council last week.
“I’m opposed to any consultants,” Anderson said. He might support hiring a lobbyist if the city “could come up with a way to save $20,000 in the budget.”
Budget Manager Ken Stone said Tuesday the contract will be paid for with cuts in the city legal department’s travel budget and in other areas.
Crosby, who often sides with Anderson on spending issues, dismissed concerns about cost, saying it would be more than offset by money savings down the line.
For instance, a lobbyist could alert the council to proposed changes to the state’s criminal justice budget that might reduce Spokane’s share. A council member could hop on a plane to testify that very day.
Lobbyists could help the city in two ways, Crosby said. They could keep officials from missing entirely the chance to testify. Or they could keep the city from prematurely sending an official to Olympia at taxpayer expense.