Ann Arbor's Lobbyist
Kirk Profit, the city's man in Lansing
"When the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund announced their grants last November and the Gallup Park canoe livery project scored number two and the Vets Park skate park was number eleven, it was unprecedented in my experience. I can't recall another city having submitted two applications in a single year before, much less getting two approved for $300,000 each."
That's Kirk Profit speaking, Ann Arbor's lobbyist in Lansing. Coming out of Ypsilanti Township government in the 1980s, Profit spent ten years representing the eastern county in the state house before he turned to lobbying in 2002 as a director of the Lansing-based Governmental Consultant Service, Inc.
"I've been involved with the [Natural Resources] Trust Fund for over thirty years in one capacity or another," Profit explains. "The Huron River and Ford Lake were long ago identified as a focus for urban recreation in the county. Historically, Ford Lake was used as a place where waste was disposed of, and we only started cleaning it out after the fish kills of the 1970s. Then we started building parks all the way up the Huron, and [the Gallup Park livery] is part of that larger project."
Profit acknowledges the skate park is "a nontraditional piece for the trust fund. But the fund wants to broaden their scope, wants to find ways to be relevant to kids. I believe this is the first skate park the fund has ever approved. And let me stress that the skate park had no chance until city activists came forward--and I also have to give credit to the city's elected officials, who identified the skate park as a high priority for the community."
Who knew Ann Arbor had a lobbyist, much less one who could bring home so much bacon? "The contract with the city is ten years old now," explains Profit. "Several years back it became apparent to city council that Ann Arbor is one of the best communities in the country, but they weren't getting
the leverage they needed with state resources. That's what I'm there for. Of course, Ann Arbor could build a skate park or a canoe livery if they wanted to, but there's no need for them to do so because there's the state government. That's what they're there for."
The city pays Profit's firm $48,000 a year from its general fund. Compared to this year's $600,000 payout, the lobbyist considers that "a pretty good ROI [return on investment]. But we also do quite a bit of other local government work, and not just natural resources. We worked on the Stadium Bridge, and we worked with [city CFO] Tom Crawford in employee compensation to make sure [new state] pension legislation reflected the interests of Ann Arbor."
Over more than twenty years in Lansing, Profit has seen state government change in many ways. "Term limits changed it dramatically. Term limits limit the pool of candidates and diminish the legislature's ability to deal with long-term and difficult issues. I watched Dave Hollister, the representative for the city of Lansing, deal with end-of-life issues, and it took him seventeen years to work through that."
Term limits also "made a dramatic shift in power to the majority caucuses," Profit says. "Now the minority's not nearly as powerful. And it shifted power to the speaker and away from the committee chairs."
Some believe term limits have also made lobbyists more powerful. "I don't know if I share that opinion," Profit responds. "Some of this stuff I've been working on for close to thirty years now, and while that experience may give me some advantages, at the end of the day, I don't get to vote. The legislature does."
Profit won't say whether he agrees or disagrees with what Governor Snyder has accomplished since taking office a year ago, but does "give him a lot of credit for how much and how quickly he's done it. Of course, you have to remember Republicans control everything in state government. They've got the senate with a twenty-six to twelve majority, which is more than anything I've seen since the early 1980s, and they've got a sixty-two to forty-seven majority in the house, so the senate is veto-proof and the house all but veto-proof."
That said, "it's going to get more challenging going forward," Profit predicts. "The governor has had a focused agenda for the first six months, and he got there very efficiently. But the next items on the agenda aren't as easy.
"For example, fixing transportation is going to require more revenue, and that'll be a challenge," Profit says. "And some members of the legislature have their own social issues that they want to get passed, and their agendas don't necessarily reflect the governor's agenda. Seeing how they resolve that will be very interesting."
[Originally published in April, 2012.]