With Gas Tax on Ballot, Transportation Lobbying Surged in NJ
More than $68 million was spent on lobbying in Trenton last year, down a bit from 2015 but the third-highest level on record, according to annual reports made public Thursday.
Health care remained a major subject of special-interest lobbying, as it typically is. Education-related spending dropped, as it often seems to when there aren’t legislative elections. And transportation zoomed up the charts, in a year when gas-tax politics drove Trenton’s conversation in the spring, summer and fall.
Transportation had been the eighth-biggest lobbying topic in 2015, then rose to second-biggest last year, at nearly $7 million. The Engineers Labor Employer Cooperative was the year’s biggest spender at $4.4 million, a six-fold increase from a year earlier.
And those totals don’t include spending on the campaign to pass a related constitutional amendment dedicating all gas-tax revenues to transportation projects, said Jeff Brindle, executive director of the state Election Law Enforcement Commission.
“So if you really combine the spending on the ballot question with spending on the Transportation Trust Fund, you’re probably talking close to $10 million that was spent,” Brindle said.
All told, spending by groups lobbying New Jersey state government fell by $1.7 million in 2016, or 2.5 percent, to $68.3 million. That followed a big 19 percent jump last year. The most ever spent in a year was $74 million in 2011.
Brindle said a big part of the reason lobbying spending went down is that the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, spent $3 million after spending over $10.3 million in 2015 – a drop of more than $7.3 million, or 71 percent.
“So that’s pretty significant,” said Brindle. “The NJEA is a story in terms of the decline in lobbying this year, but I think one thing I would say that, if I could make a prediction, I think NJEA will probably be right back on top, a good possibility next year.”
Brindle expects education changes in Washington will heat up lobbying in Trenton.
“With the new secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, possibly talking about returning educational responsibilities to the states as well as school choice, I think that is likely to become a significant issue in the future,” said Brindle.
Another signal that NJEA spending will probably increase this year is that it’s typically higher in election years.
The union spent $6.9 million in 2010, as part of its years-long battle with then-new Gov. Chris Christie, followed by $11.3 million in the midterm election year of 2011, when the full Senate and Assembly were on the ballot.
It spent close to $410,000 in 2012, then $3.3 million in 2013. It spent $352,000 in 2014, followed by $10.3 million in 2015. And then it spent $3 million last year.
Health care remained a major lobbying subject, as it has been in recent years.
“If you really combine pharmaceuticals and hospitals, health care in general, insurance, it probably adds up to around $16 million,” Brindle said.
The amount spent by lobbyists on meals, trips and other things for lawmakers and other state officials went up – but totaled just $3,501, compared with a peak of $163,375 in 1992.
Lobbyists earned a combined $35.5 million in salaries last year, up 5 percent, and retainers paid to outside lobbyists was up by almost $1 million, or 6 percent.
The largest lobbying firm remains Princeton Public Affairs Group, for the 14th straight year. Its receipts totaled $9 million, from 195 clients, including $296,594 from the Balloon Council, $180,270 from the PennEast Pipeline Co. and $180,000 from Meadowlands Hospital.
Public Strategies Impact took in $6.4 million. Four firms had receipts between $3.3 million and $2.3 million: MBI Gluckshaw, Kaufman Zita Group, Cammarano Layton & Bombardieri Partners and Gibbons PC.