Thursday, May 6, 2004

Lobbyists spent less on 2004 General Assembly

The Associated Press

FRANKFORT - The 2004 General Assembly produced less legislation than usual, which saved some money for lobbyists.

Reports to the Legislative Ethics Commission show lobbying costs were down from Jan. 1 through March 31, which covered all but the final two days in which the House and Senate were in session.

Altogether, $5.17 million was spent on lobbyist salaries, legislative receptions and related expenses. It was $377,000 less than the amount spent in the same period in 2002, the previous 60-day legislative session. The General Assembly meets for 30 days in odd-numbered years.

Lobbyists had less to lobby on this year. With state revenues in decline, the legislature had relatively little to spend and failed to deliver a state budget for the new biennium.

Fewer bills were filed, and fewer still made it through. One hundred sixty-five bills became law, down from 231 in 2002.

"There wasn't much on the table," said Wayne Young, executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Administrators. "I kept telling people that I didn't know which was worse - having to lobby 100 bills or having to lobby on one bill for 100 days, as we did this year."

Gov. Ernie Fletcher said he wished there had been more lobbying, particularly from business interests whose support he courted for a new tax code.

Some groups - the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Greater Louisville Inc. and Commerce Lexington - endorsed his plan right away and talked it up with lawmakers. Others were hesitant about getting on board, gauging how individual companies would be affected.

"I do think they could have stepped up a little bit more or could have been a little stronger," Fletcher said.

Some business lobbyists pointed out that Fletcher did not introduce his tax plan until mid-March, when the legislative session was in its final quarter.

"Many of us had been spending our time working on other bills and issues," said Bob Babbage, lobbyist for AK Steel Corp., Viacom Outdoor and a dozen other business interests. "It's like being in the seventh inning of a ball game and then being told you have to move to another field."

The biggest spenders were business and manufacturing interests, which weighed in on proposed tax changes, tax breaks, employment law and environmental rules. They spent $888,061.

Medical interests, including hospitals and doctors, spent $628,097. They wanted a constitutional amendment on medical malpractice, among other things.

Tobacco and agriculture interests spent $280,720 on lobbying, and alcoholic beverage interests spent $131,184.

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