Lawmakers' travel information reveals few surprises and its release is called a 'non-event' by the House speaker.
Saying he only wanted to give the public information it might not get otherwise, Gov. Bill Graves on Tuesday released a compilation of legislators' travel expenses.
Aside from Sen. Sherman Jones, D-Kansas City, Kan., costing taxpayers $11,203 for nine out-of-state trips in fiscal 1999 -- by far the most spent by any senator or state representative -- there were few surprises.
So few, in fact, that legislators found themselves wondering what the governor hoped to accomplish.
"Much ado about nothing," said Senate President Dick Bond, R-Overland Park.
"It's a non-event," said Speaker of the House Robin Jennison, R-Healy. "I think this is an over-reaction on the part of the governor's office and I've told them that."
Last week, legislative leaders sparred over how best to react to reports that former Department on Aging Secretary Thelma Hunter Gordon -- a Graves appointee -- had abused her travel privileges and had quietly given a former aide a no-bid $135,000 consulting contract.
A legislator, who insisted on anonymity, asked the Legislative Research Department to find out how much the 10 other Cabinet secretaries had spent on out-of-state trips.
Graves' office responded by asking the Legislative Administrative Services office to produce a similar report on all 165 legislators' travels.
Graves' office released the Legislative Administrative Services list Thursday. The list of travels by individual Cabinet secretaries and top assistants is still being compiled.
But the administration did release total agency travel expenditures, showing just over $3 million spent on out-of-state and international travel and just under $10.6 million on in-state travel, a total of $13.6 million for fiscal 1999.
By comparison, in fiscal 1994, the last year of Gov. Joan Finney's administration, state agencies spent a total of $13.8 million on travel.
Don Brown, Graves' press secretary, said the governor didn't ask for the legislative travel numbers to advance a spitting contest with lawmakers.
"There is no intent here to reach any particular conclusions based on the release of this information," Brown said.
"But the issue of travel at the executive-branch level has been raised, and it's the governor's position that making similar information on legislative travel will provide focus and perspective. That's all," Brown said.
According to the compilation, Republicans spent $144,298 for 117 trips in fiscal 1999, which ended June 30, 1999. Democrats spent $152,476 for 110 trips.
Among the more popular destinations were meetings sponsored by the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Council of State Governments and the American Legislative Exchange Council.
Of the state's 40 senators' travel expenses, Jones' were the highest: $11,203 for nine trips.
In the House, Ed McKechnie, D-Pittsburg, spent $8,962 on seven trips.
"I'm not sure what the news is here," McKechnie said. "I'm on an NCSL committee on fiscal matters, and I was elected to represent 10 Midwestern states on a Council of State Governments committee on reapportionment.
"I'm on these committees, I go to their meetings," he said. "And the fact that I go is a matter of public record."
Jones, a retired police officer, could not be reached for comment.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said Jones has done nothing wrong.
"People need to understand that Sherman is chairman of the NCSL committee on reapportionment and he's the ranking minority member of the Federal and State Affairs Committee, which handles gaming issues," Hensley said. "So, yes, he's going to travel, but he's done nothing out of line."
Hensley, who's been minority leader for the past three years, said he keeps close tabs on Democratic senators' travels.
"If I see something on our folks' part that I think is excessive, I call them on the carpet right away," he said. "Because this is the kind of thing your opponent can use against you in the next election. We're very cognizant of that."
All travel by lawmakers must be approved in advance by the Legislative Coordinating Council, a bipartisan group of legislative leaders.
Also, lawmakers must submit a written evaluation of the meeting attended before they are reimbursed.
Hensley said it's "interesting" that Cabinet secretaries do not have to report on the benefits of the conferences they attend.
"Maybe that's something we ought to look into," he said.
-- Dave Ranney's phone message number is 832-7222. His e-mail is email@example.com.
Top ten in travel expenses
House of Represenatives
1) Ed McKechnie, D-Pittsburg, 7 trips, $8,962
2) Jim Garner, D-Coffeyville, 6 trips, $8,859
3) Rocky Nichols, D-Topeka, 4 Trips, $6,458
4) Ruby Gilbert, D-Wichita, 5 trips, $6,042
5) Jerry Henry, D-Atchison, 4 trips, $6,036
6) Janice Pauls, D-Hutchinson, 3 trips, $5,893
7) Shari Weber, R-Herington, 5 trips, $5,294
8) Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, 4 trips, $5,235
9) Ralph Tanner, R-Baldwin, 4 trips, $5,139
10) David Adkins, R-Leawood, 4 trips, $4,895
1) Sherman Jones, D-Kansas City, 9 trips, $11,203
2) Barbara Lawrence, R-Wichita, 5 trips, $6,687
3) Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, 4 trips, $6,487
4) Jim Barone, D-Frontenac, 3 trips, $6,312
5) Audrey Langworthy, R-Prairie Village, 6 trips, $6,312.
6) Lana Oleen, R-Manhattan, 7 trips, $6,168
7) Marge Petty, D-Topeka, 6 trips, $6,042
8) Rip Gooch, D-Wichita, 4 trips, $5,704
9) Chris Steineger, D-Kansas City, 4 trips, $5,616
10) Janice Hardenburger, R-Haddam, 3 trips, $4,946
ON THE ROAD
Lawrence and area lawmakers' travel expenses:
Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, three trips, $4,820
Troy Findley, D-Lawrence, four trips, $1,030
Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, one trip, $1,107
Ralph Tanner, R-Baldwin, four trips, $5,139
Sandy Praeger, R-Lawrence, three trips, $3,390