More than a year after Green Valley Hospice in Roseville accepted its first patients, it still hadn’t received any Medicare checks from the federal government.
The problem, it turned out, was that the facility didn’t have a Medicare billing number. That process takes time, owner Najmeen Sheraze was told. As the bills piled up and it began to look like his new business would have to close before it really got started, Sheraze enlisted the help of Roseville city officials.
They, in turn, contacted the offices of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Tom McClintock, who helped push Green Valley’s new billing number through.
The successful navigation of the sometimes impenetrable federal bureaucracy is one example cited by Roseville officials of their stepped-up efforts to influence state and federal issues and, if needed, assist local businesses entangled in red tape.
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“The city has always taken an active role in state and federal advocacy. In the last three years, there has been a more focused approach,” said Mark Wolinski, a city government-relations analyst. “It’s a much more focused effort and coordinated effort.”
Lobbying by local governments in California is nothing new. Three hundred government entities – from cities and counties to water districts and Indian tribes – have spent $20.6 million on lobbying during the current session of the Legislature, according to state records. Roseville has spent $20,255, ranking 217th. Sacramento County has spent the most in the region, $404,365, and ranks 11th statewide.
Wolinski said Roseville’s new focus is to devote more staff time across every department. The staffers review legislation to weigh possible harm to the city and make themselves available to help businesses like Green Valley Hospice. Also, a committee was created to give early warnings to the City Council on potential issues.
Given the volume of bills moving through the Legislature, Wolinski said, it isn’t prudent to hope legislative committee staffers understand the potential ramifications for every local government.
“Rather than leaving it to chance, we’re in a better position by being proactive,” he said. “If we’re engaged in the process, we can make those suggestions or recommendations.”
Last year, facing stiff new state regulations for handling stormwater, the city recruited other local governments to oppose the rules. The group, which grew to 90 local governments and organizations, created a website stormwatercosts.com and convinced the state to pull back some of the requirements for implementation, said Sean Bigley, another Roseville government-relations analyst.
“Roseville really took a leadership role,” Bigley said.
In the end, the cost to implement the new stormwater program was $1.5 million to the city – $1.4 million less than the original projection.
Chris McKenzie, executive director of the League of California Cities, said it’s a good idea for cities to devote staff energy to protecting their interests.
The League of California Cities has reported spending $721,768 lobbying the Legislature on issues of importance to its members. But, McKenzie said, the league only weighs in on common issues among cities, and can’t necessarily help when some cities are winners and other are losers. He said having city staffers read bills provides extra protection, noting that legislative staff members don’t always understand how legislation will affect cities and that sometimes cities’ interests are not their primary concern.
“The squeaky wheel gets the attention,” McKenzie said. “If you don’t work hard to affect these decisions, you have to live with the results and they are often unworkable.”
On the federal side, lobbyists working for cities have refocused their attention from securing legislative spending earmarks to navigating the federal bureaucracy and securing grant money.
“It doesn’t work anymore to just write a good application,” McKenzie said.
One public-policy area Roseville officials have turned their attention to is the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, the state’s proposal to build two massive tunnels beneath the Delta aimed at stabilizing water transfers to Southern California. Roseville officials say they are concerned that under some scenarios Folsom Lake would be too dry for the city to use its pumps to supply its residents. The council voted to begin fighting the plan.
“We don’t feel like what is being proposed is a comprehensive statewide water support plan,” said Bigley. “It needs to be a comprehensive plan that takes care of all of California.”