ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota lawmakers dished out billions of dollars in a new budget assembled in a just-concluded legislative session. Groups spent millions lobbying for a slice or to alter policy sometimes closely tied to the state money.
Lobbying disclosure reports published Tuesday offer an early glimpse of where the most expensive battles were. Education, transportation and business regulations topped the list. Tobacco, energy and liquor issues also proved costly.
The reports covering January through May aren’t the last word because the Legislature’s work spilled into June. Also, groups aren’t required to provide details on compensation to their lobbying teams until year’s end, which will substantially drive up the total amount spent.
In 2013, the last time Minnesota lawmakers set a budget, lobbying costs reached a record $69 million, according to the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board. A comparable 2015 tally won’t be available until early next year.
The teachers union, Education Minnesota, spent $565,000 on its lobbying during the session, due to a TV ad effort that accounted for 80 percent. The union was able to fend off a change to tenure laws and its members will no doubt be in line for raises given the $355 million more lawmakers put on the per-pupil funding formula.
But the union came up short in a push for universal preschool for 4-year-olds, which Gov. Mark Dayton championed.
A collection of groups also involved in school funding and policy debates devoted at least $270,000 more to their causes.
Business groups also made their presence known at the Capitol as they fought for lower taxes, eased regulations and other priorities. A tax-cut plan that would have been a win for business got cast aside in the end, but lawmakers say they’ll jump back into the discussion in 2016.
The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce was the big spender, reporting $360,500 in lobbying expenses. Two other statewide groups, the Coalition of Minnesota Business and the Minnesota Business Partnership, spent a combined $178,000. The Minnesota Association of Realtors added $114,000.
It’s the lobbyist billing gift that will keep on giving. The lack of a long-term deal on road, bridge and mass transit spending means the issue will be front-and-center next year.
But groups on each side of the debate spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying on this year’s stalled effort, including proponents of a tax hike-backed plan that put ads on the air. Transit for Livable Communities and the Minnesota Transportation Alliance — two major backers — combined to spend more than $250,000 in 2015 so far.
The perennial struggle over Sunday takeaway liquor sales ended the same way as always — with a ban keeping liquor stores from opening that day in place.
But the fight topped $50,000 before lobbyist salaries are figured in.
A tussle over state tobacco laws, including how to tax cigars and e-cigarettes, also ran up lobbying tabs. Altria Client Services, the parent company for leading cigarette makers, neared $90,000 in spending. A trio of anti-smoking groups was just shy of that mark put together.
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