The Greenwood mayor wants to spend more money on a lobbyist next year with two goals in mind: gaining legislative approval for an increased food and beverage tax and getting grants to make railroad crossings safer.
If the proposed 2016 city budget is approved, the city could spend up to $60,000 on a lobbyist from Barnes and Thornburg to help secure state and federal funding to help pay for projects across the city.
In 2012, the city paid $20,000 to Barnes and Thornburg when the law firm lobbied for federal funding for a project to widen Worthsville Road. The city was awarded up to $7.5 million. The amount spent on lobbying each year has grown.
Next year, Greenwood intends to again ask legislators for an increase in the food and beverage tax, and it needs funding to improve and upgrade its railroad crossings throughout the city.
Last year, the city spent almost $31,000 on Barnes and Thornburg when the firm lobbied for approval for the city to use an increased local food and beverage tax, controller Adam Stone said. The bill wasn’t approved by state legislators, but Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers said that the passage of a new law isn’t solely what the city judges the lobbying effort on.
When about 10 towns and cities joined to propose the bill to approve a local 1 percent food and beverage tax, they didn’t get a hearing, Myers said. But when the city proposed the same bill for itself, the bill was reviewed in both the House and the Senate, Myers said.
Barnes and Thornburg’s connections with state and national legislators provided him an opportunity to meet and discuss future projects the city needs federal or state funding to complete, Myers said.
“It’s very important that we have a lobbyist,” the mayor said. “If we’re able to get bills heard, whether they pass or not, that’s a success.
“They have better connections than I do. They’re talking to senators, doing whatever it takes to get bills passed. The city itself doesn’t have the money, but if we have lobbyists, they can pursue the money we need in a stronger way.”
The lobbyist also will be charged with getting grant money for specific railroad crossings due to a railroad upgrade the federal government has approved. The city doesn’t pay Barnes and Thornburg a flat monthly rate. When projects arise, the city uses the Indianapolis firm for the amount of time needed, Myers said.
CSX is upgrading its line that runs from Louisville to Indianapolis, changing out tracks to accommodate longer and faster trains. This will increase the number of trains that pass through Greenwood from three to five trains a day to almost 17 trains, which will be traveling at nearly 50 mph.
Greenwood will need to add crossing arms at the Stop 18 Road railroad crossing and upgrade arms at Main and Meridian streets crossing, Myers said. Since learning about the CSX upgrades, he has traveled to Washington three times specifically to discuss the plan and what the city needs to make the changes at its crossings, he said.
He travels to Washington at least four times a year to meet with legislators, he said. Several times, he has taken lobbyists with him.
When Greenwood wanted to make renovations to the city airport, the mayor flew to Washington and met with Indiana members of Congress, which was arranged by Barnes and Thornburg. The meeting helped secure $1 million in federal funding to pay for a $1.1 million runway extension project.
Not every partnership with lobbyists has proved successful.
Then-Mayor Charles E. Henderson hired Indianapolis-based Kreig Devault to lobby for the city, but after failed attempts to bring in state and federal funding, the city stopped using lobbyists for a time.
Johnson County officials no longer hire lobbyists, county commissioner Ron West said.
“I’m skeptical on their ability to get the funding for projects,” West said. “I’ve always been skeptical. I don’t know why I would pay someone to argue my case when I feel like I could do it just as well.”
The success Greenwood has had recently keeps Myers turning to the firm.
In the next five to 10 years, the city needs to continue sewer upgrades and major road projects, such as what is happening with the Pearl Street sewer project and the Worthsville Road and Interchange 65 construction project.
“The city would still be planning development without lobbyists, but we need state and federal money to fund projects,” Myers said. “Every community is fighting for money. But because we have lobbyists we can get that funding and at a faster pace. They spend a lot of time and energy and a lot of hours over at the Statehouse for us.”