The Haines Borough’s Washington lobbyist defended his annual $43,200 fee to the assembly this week, claiming his work on finding funding for the harbor expansion project and other issues warrants the bill.
Brad Gilman spoke Monday at a committee of the whole meeting organized by Mayor Stephanie Scott. Scott had questions about the effectiveness of Gilman’s services and whether the borough is getting its money’s worth.
Having a person on the ground in Washington to keep abreast of state and federal opportunities, whether it be through funding or legislation, should be important to Haines, Gilman said.
“You have to be active and have a full understanding of where they’re coming from. And I just don’t think you can do that on your own back here,” he said.
The majority of Gilman’s Haines lobbying time lately has been spent drafting and pushing a program designed to streamline the process for securing U.S. Army Corps of Engineers funding for the harbor expansion project, he said.
Manager Mark Earnest said the program, part of a larger piece of legislation called the Water Resources Development Act of 2013, would allow Hawaii, Alaska and the U.S. Territories to compete for Corps of Engineers funding on a separate level from projects in the Lower 48.
Because projects are ranked for funding based on potential benefit to the nation, and not to the individual community or state, it’s “virtually impossible” for Alaskan projects to compete for funding, Earnest said.
The legislation passed the Senate and is being considered by the House, Gilman said.
Gilman said he also is watching legislation and keeping an ear open to discussions pertaining to deep-water ports, cruise ship emissions standards, funding for the Shakwak Project, and liquefied natural gas importation and exportation.
The borough last year renegotiated Gilman’s annual fee from $50,400 to $43,200, although last year’s budget has still not been amended to reflect that change. Assembly member Debra Schnabel, who proposed at an assembly meeting in June 2012 to cut Gilman’s funding to $20,000, asked Gilman Monday whether the renegotiation had an effect on how much time Gilman was spending on Haines lobbying.
“I’m working a lot harder for Haines right now because this harbor project’s just a nightmare, just to be honest. It would be a lot of easier if they were doing project-specific earmarks where we could just make the case on the harbor, get it authorized, get it appropriated. That’s work, but it’s not as much work as running around trying to create a whole new program,” Gilman said.
“It’s ironic, because I’m getting paid less to scramble more. But I figure over time it all works out,” he added.
Mayor Scott said in an interview after the meeting that while she wasn’t necessarily a “convert” to the idea of spending so much money on a Washington lobbyist, she was impressed with Gilman’s initiative at drafting legislation and giving it to the delegation.
“It’s a model of lobbying that not every lobbyist undertakes, to actually present the staff with legislation. I think it’s a higher level of service definitely and I appreciate it,” Scott told Gilman during the meeting.
Scott said the Alaska Municipal League has assured her it does an adequate job of lobbying on behalf of communities like Haines, but Gilman commented during the meeting that AML’s email notifications of goings-on usually come too late for communities to capitalize on information.
Gilman said he is a unique resource for communities like Haines. “I am institutional knowledge. I’m the only person that works for Alaska communities that has been through this process over and over and over again for the last 20 years or so. I fill a unique niche,” he said.
Earnest agreed Gilman is an invaluable asset to the borough.
“He’s been really involved in Alaska politics on the national level for decades. And I think it’s just good to get his perspective,” Earnest said.
Gilman’s $43,200 retainer fee is included in Earnest’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Assembly members have a final opportunity to make budget alterations at the June 11 meeting.