MADISON (AP) - Lobbyists spent more than 27 hours per Wisconsin lawmaker trying to influence their vote on a proposal that made it easier to open an iron ore mine near Lake Superior, according to a report released Thursday.
Aside from the state budget, no other proposal garnered more lobbyist attention in the first half of 2013, the report from the Government Accountability Board showed. The expansive state budget, introduced at the beginning of every odd-numbered year, traditionally dominates legislative debate and lobbying as it touches on the lives of most residents and dozens of special interests.
More than 309 hours were spent per lawmaker lobbying the budget, the report showed. The two most heavily lobbied topics were health services and public instruction.
Gov. Scott Walker's budget included his proposal expanding the taxpayer subsidized voucher school program and rejection of federal money to expand Medicaid. Those issues, along with other proposals related to Medicaid and education funding, dominated legislative debate of the two-year spending plan.
Overall lobbying over the first six months of the year was down compared with 2011 and 2009, despite the intense lobbying effort. Lobbying organizations reported spending $17.1 million this year. That is down by 28 percent from the $23.9 million spent in the first six months of 2011. Overall hours spent on lobbying also decreased by 25 percent compared with 2011.
Still, lobbyists spent an average of 945 hours lobbying each of Wisconsin's 132 lawmakers over the first six months of the year. That comes out to more than five hours each day for each senator or state representative.
Lobbying had steadily increased until the 2011 session and has been declining since then, said GAB administrator Jonathan Becker.
"We can speculate that the reason for the decrease is the state of the economy," he said in a statement. "Most companies and organizations that try to influence the Legislature were likely tightening their belts, and that was reflected in the reduced resources they devoted to lobbying."
There were 605 licensed lobbyists this year, down from 803 in 2011.
The Wisconsin Insurance Alliance spent the most on lobbying, $357,167, in the first six months of the year. It was followed by the Wisconsin Hospital Association, with $323,506, and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce at $294,823.
Also notable was that spending on lobbying by public employee unions dropped dramatically since a new law was enacted limiting collective bargaining for most public workers. The report shows that the state's largest teacher's union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, spent about $2 million on lobbying in the first six months of 2011, just before the law was enacted, but just $84,000 in the first six months of 2013.
The council had been near the top on spending over the past four years.
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