Stateline Story

States Lobby Congress For Federal Funds

  • February 08, 2002
  • By Kathleen Murphy

Thirty-four states operate lobbying offices in Washington, D.C. to fight for their share of federal dollars and push the governor's agenda in the halls of Congress.

The states' Washington, D.C. reps, known as state "directors," say states are beggars on Capitol Hill even though congressional delegations are supposed to protect their states' interests. Lobbying is needed to steer the flow of federal money to states, they say.

"So much of what we do is trying to protect the appropriations that come from the federal government to the state," said LeAnne Wilson, director of the Washington office for Michigan Gov. John Engler. "You wouldn't think that the state would have to lobby the federal government because we're supposed to be partners."

State directors say the state-federal relationship doesn't work without arm-twisting, and congressmen say the lobbyists' input is helpful in setting priorities.

"Indiana's state lobbyist has provided me with a great deal of information on state needs in areas ranging from education to healthcare to transportation. This has helped me, particularly during the appropriations process, to identify areas at the state and local levels that need targeted federal resources." U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., said in an email to Stateline.org.

Jeff Viohl, director of Indiana's Washington office, said, "The work we're doing has helped to ensure that Indiana is getting its fair share of money.

Viohl's four-person staff represents Indiana through a $450,000 contract with the state. Most other state directors are state employees who report directly to the governor or chief of staff. Some also answer to the legislature or a state agency.

The states' lobbyists help avoid confusion when "the governor's agenda may not 100-percent match up with the congressional offices' agenda," said Peter Wiley, the National Governors' Association director of office and management services.

State budget crises have meant that some state lobbyists have had to justify their existence. In Wisconsin, a five-person D.C. office, costing $700,000, almost didn't survive the state's budget process.

"In the end, the legislature always comes to the conclusion that we help bring back millions and millions of dollars to make that investment worth it," said John Murray, director of Wisconsin's Washington office.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott McCallum wants to bring back even more money to the state, which -- depending on who you talk to -- ranks 47th or 48th in federal dollars returned because the state lacks big defense contracts.

"We need the office because we don't want to be 50th in federal funding coming back from Washington," McCallum said through a spokesman.

Montana Gov. Judy Martz plans to open a Washington office this summer and will measure its success by the number of federal dollars returned to the state.

"Montana competes with every other state to attract businesses and make sure it gets its portion of federal funding and grant opportunities," said Barbara Ranf, Martz's chief of staff. "The office will enhance our federal-state partnerships."

Getting money for state roads is often near the top of state directors' agendas.

When Ron McMurray, Idaho's Washington director, learned that transportation funding in the president's budget would be $9 billion less than last year, he knew it "means $60 million less for Idaho roads. That's going to really be very damaging to us."

Looking for a remedy, McMurray lined up meetings with U.S. Transportation Department officials and attended a White House briefing on the budget.

The sixteen states that don't have Washington offices are: Arizona, Arkansas, Alabama, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise's federal liaison, Chip Slaven, works in Charleston, and says his job is made easier by Wise's knowledge of Washington after 18 years as a congressman.

"The governor really wanted someone here who he could go down the hall and see if he wants to," Slaven said. "I see my role as taking in a lot of information and pushing it back out to the right people in state government."