The Dec. 31 agenda of the Wright County Board of Commissioners will include a consent agenda item dealing with retaining the lobbying firm of Flaherty & Hood to represent Wright County’s interests during the 2020 session of the Minnesota State Legislature.
Commissioner Mike Potter said that, while there are differing views on the value vs. the cost of counties and cities hiring lobbyists to help get their concerns heard, he added that it’s become the new normal and, even if you’re opposed to it, if you don’t have lobbyists and an opposing side does, the odds of you getting what you want diminish.
“It’s kind of the rule of the sandbox down at the Legislature,” Potter said. “The lobbyists have the connections to get your message in front of the some of the legislators. Any of us could go down there and talk to them, but, by the time that day ends, they’ve had 50 other people talk to them. How are they going to remember you? That’s the rule of the sandbox. Whether you like it or not, that’s how the game is played in St. Paul.”
Flaherty & Hood’s proposal is largely based on its experience in dealing with issues related to nuclear power plants. It also represents the Coalition of Utility Cities, of which the City of Monticello is a member. The state and Xcel Energy have been at odds for years over the value of the facility. Initially, the plan was to phase out the power plant in Monticello by 2030, but recent discussions have hinted the plant could remain operational for another eight to 10 years beyond the scheduled closure date.
Because the Xcel nuclear plant is the largest single tax-paying property/business in Wright County, whether it continues to operate is of critical importance to both the city and the county because of the amount of tax it pays both each year.
The proposed contract that has been submitted by Flaherty & Hood for 2020, which has a not-to-exceed figure of $55,000, would also deal with regulatory issues related to ditch drainage (an ongoing issue in Wright County) and pursuing state funding for a local dental center project in the county.
The contract will provide the county with consultation on developing legislative priorities and strategies, drafting necessary legislation and amendments, securing bill authors, directly lobbying with committee chairs, key legislators and the governor’s administration, updating and creating supporting materials and handouts highlighting county issues, monitoring the progress of relevant bills and coordinating testimony for legislative hearings.
Potter said that Xcel Energy has a lobbying contingent claiming that its property valuation, which, unlike most properties, is set by the state not by the county, is more than 35 percent higher than its true value. As a result, Xcel has been pushing hard to lobby the Legislature and state and federal leaders to markedly lower its valuation – and, in turn, the amount of property tax it pays. To that end, Potter added, whether you’re pro- or anti-lobbyist, you need to protect your interests as best you can or be left out of the discussion completely.
“The big thing I’ve told my constituents is that you need to be at the table to have your voice heard,” Potter said. “We can’t be down in St. Paul every day. We need someone working on our behalf on key issues like the nuclear plant and transportation issues that are important to the residents of our county. I’ve always said that if you aren’t at the table, you’re on the menu and you get nothing accomplished that way. This way, we’re at the table and part of the conversation.”