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The Fourth Floor: Jacksonville Drops Contract Lobbyists

Facing a potentially $60 million budget shortfall, the city of Jacksonville won't renew its contracts with four lobbying firms, a spokeswoman for Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton said Friday.

The city had spent $430,000 a year on contract lobbying firms since 1998. This year, the city employed Southern Strategy Group, GrayRobinson, The Fiorentino Group and Ausley McMullen.

“We have made the decision not to go through an RFP to select new lobbyists for the next legislative session,” spokeswoman Misty Skipper told the News Service Friday. “It is purely based on finances.”

The city could be as much as $60 million in the hole next year, and will rely on the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of Counties to look out for its interests.

“We are reducing staffing at our fire stations, closing all but one library on Sundays, we are having to take very difficult decisions ... on our budget,” Skipper said.

Jacksonville would be one of the largest cities without a contract lobbyist specifically representing its interests before lawmakers.

“I think they're making a mistake,” said Carl Adams, president of the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists. “The squeaking wheel gets the grease.”

Adams said cities often have a different role in the process than other interests - they're usually competing against each other for scarce money or projects. In other buinsesses, often all the competitors in a particular industry are together to lobby an issue that benefits them all. While the cities do have common interests, often represented by membership groups like the League of Cities, they still have to look out for themselves.

“I always thought that they were smart to have somebody on the scene because they're arguing with other municipalities for money,” Adams said. “If you're not there in line to ask for your share nobody's going to remember you.”

But Skipper said most of the issues the city will be concerned about next year won't be unique to Jacksonville - and that makes it likely that it can get by with having its general interests represented by both the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of Counties. Jacksonville is consolidated with Duval County, so it belongs to both.

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