In New York State, it’s about schools and homes — the issues of education policy and real estate tax breaks, two of the most contentious, pushed the spending for lobbying groups during the first six months of this year, according to a report released this week by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE).
Casey Seiler, writing for the Times Union, says almost $131 million was spent on actions to influence the government decision-making in the state from January to June, roughly the period the Legislature has been in session.
The education issues that kept the Legislature and advocates busy this year included controversy over the Common Core educational standards and Governor Andrew Cuomo’s effort to pass an education investment tax credit (EITC) that would encourage donating money to educational organizations. The measure, supported by many Republicans, did not get past the Assembly.
The pro-charter Coalition for Opportunity in Education based in Latham, NY was the top spender on JCOPE’s list with over $5 million for lobbying expenditures. This group was also one of the strongest backers of the EITC.
“We’re just leveling a playing field that’s been dominated by one side of the education argument for decades,” said Robert Bellafiore, a spokesman for the coalition.
The “one side of the education argument” to which Bellafiore refers is the New York State United Teachers union. It spent $3.8 million on lobbying efforts during this session, and United University Professions took the No. 9 spot on the list at $1.4 million expended.
Families for Excellent Schools spent $3.4 million on pro-charter school lobbying, but said that $1.7 million of the funds was reported in separate filings by its “independent advocacy arm.” This arrangement conceals the identities of its donors.
The rest of the groups on the list were coalitions representing labor and real estate developers. The developers have been lobbying on NYC’s 421-a affordable housing production program, which offers partial tax exemption to developers of certain residential buildings.
The Greater New York Hospital Association also spent $1.43 million.
JCOPE reported that of the about $131 million in total lobbying spending for this time period, approximately $101 million was spent on compensation to retained and in-house lobbyists, and $30 million was spent on advertising, events, and other expenses.
Lobbying expenditures have gone up 19% in the first part of the year compared to the same period last year. Joseph Spector, writing for the Gannett Albany Bureau, says spending for the first part of last year was $109.8 million, and in this year’s first six months it was $130.9 million, according to information released by JCOPE.
With that much money being spent it would seem that positive results would occur, but tax-credit backers did not get what they wanted. However, Cuomo did agree to save $250 million to pay back non-public schools for government-mandated costs.
The state did not increase the number of allowable charter schools above the 460 slots already approved, but did inject some flexibility to NYC to add new charters, a city where most of the state’s charter schools are located.
A Gannett Albany Bureau series published this year called “Power in Money” focused on the point at which money and public policy cross in the state’s government. Lobbying expenses for education policy have totaled $124 million since 2006. New York State United Teachers union, along with its NYC affiliate, spent an added $45.3 million in lobbying efforts over the past nine years.
Gannett’s Albany Bureau found, reports Spector, that:
“The intersection of money and power at the Capitol is seen throughout the ornate halls as high-priced lobbyists flank almost every special-interest group. And the booming business is tied to just about every major issue: from education, the minimum wage, business tax breaks and health care reform.”