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The Hall County government doesn’t need a lobbyist, which is an option being discussed as a means of getting more support from state government. It needs phone numbers.
The governor of Georgia is from Hall County, as are key members of his staff and some of his appointed department heads and board members. The lieutenant governor is from Hall County. The speaker of the House is a fellow North Georgian who once worked here at The Times. One of the rising leaders in the state Senate is from Hall County, and one of the local representatives is among the most veteran members of the House.
Thus, there is no shortage of local clout available for Hall County at the state Capitol. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find any county in the state that has ever enjoyed so many potential connections to top state government positions.
And yet, some members of the Hall County Board of Commissioners are considering hiring a lobbyist to represent the county at the state level to improve chances of winning support for certain legislative initiatives commissioners feel are important.
Sorry, but that dog just won’t hunt.
Later this month, Commissioners Craig Lutz and Billy Powell plan to meet with the Association County Commissioners of Georgia to discuss the viability of hiring a lobbyist to represent the county’s interest in dealing with state officials.
In the past, the ACCG has been the voice for county governments in dealing with state officials. Now some county officials believe the group is oriented too much toward the state’s smaller counties, and have decided to hire lobbyists to intercede on their behalf.
For some counties, that may make sense, though an iffy proposition at best. But not for the one with a higher contingent of top state officials than any other.
Understand the basic premise here: For the most part, lobbying at the Capitol on behalf of counties is about money — money for special projects, for roads, for programs, for public safety.
Those counties that hire lobbyists to represent them are betting they can get more tax money back from the state than what they spend to hire the lobbyist.
If you are a taxpayer, you should be cringing by now.
So what are these lobbyists supposed to do? Convince state lawmakers to support the legislative initiatives of the counties they represent. A lobbyist for Gwinnett County is going to say, “Don’t spend that state tax money in Bibb County, spend it in the county that’s paying me instead.”
Think of it as the ultimate taxpayer-supported special interest.
Traditionally, counties have worked with their legislative delegations to try to win approval for the items on their wish lists. The lobbyist lobby seems to have convinced some of them that working through their local representatives isn’t enough anymore.
Hall commissioners have even talked about possibly having two lobbyists to represent the county — one to deal with legislation during the three months of the General Assembly each year, and another just for transportation needs.
Ironically, this all plays out while the state is trying to cut down on abuses of the system by lobbyists with more stringent, though barely so, ethics guidelines.
With the economy being what it is, there aren’t as many dollars spent on lobbyists by the private sector, so those in the profession are probably glad to get any government clients they can.
If counties, cities and school boards all want to hire lobbyists to plead on their behalf at the Capitol, those who do it for a living certainly won’t be complaining.
In fact, there’s probably great potential within the lobbying industry to use tax money to chase tax money. Consider that the needs of county governments are sometimes in conflict with those of city governments, so if Hall County has someone pushing its agenda to lawmakers, then Gainesville might need the same — or Oakwood or Flowery Branch or ...
But that’s not the way it should be.
Leaders at the local level need to put together realistic legislative agendas that have some possibility of winning approval, knowing as they do they will never get everything they want. Local legislative delegations, once convinced of the legitimacy of the need for those legislative items, need to work to prioritize those items in relation to the bigger picture of state government. It shouldn’t be hard for local governmental entities to make convincing arguments of what they need to those who represent them at the state level.
And as for Hall County? When you’ve got ironclad connections to the most powerful people in state government hierarchy, you don’t need a lobbyist. You need phone numbers. And the assurance that whoever in a position of authority is on the other end is going to accept your call.
Then again, maybe the commissioners have got the numbers and it’s just that no one wants to answer on the other end. Not even the best of lobbyists will solve that problem.