Topeka Legislative leaders have allowed an explosive increase in the cost of legislative travel, but they balked Wednesday at helping one lawmaker attend a prestigious meeting.
Travel costs for lawmakers going to state government conventions totaled $198,483 during the fiscal year that ended July 31. That's 73 percent more than the $114,000 spent the previous year, according to the Division of Legislative Administrative Services.
The increase is due to the fact that legislative leaders during the last fiscal year removed a $700 per trip cap for reimbursement on travel expenses, which had been put in place when the state was facing tough budgetary times. Many lawmakers had paid for anything over that from their campaign funds.
Now with the cap removed, the average reimbursement per trip from the state has more than doubled.
But on Wednesday, members of the Legislative Coordinating Council delayed making a decision on granting state Rep. Valdenia Winn, D-Kansas City, Kan., $1,000 to supplement her expenses to the Oxford Round Table in March.
The annual meeting in Oxford, England, focuses on educational issues and attracts leaders from throughout the world. Winn, a professor at Kansas City Kansas Community College, was selected to talk about diversity in the public school system.
House Democratic Leader Dennis McKinney, of Greensburg, argued for helping pay Winn's way.
Winn is a member of several legislative committees dealing with education, she represents one of the most diverse districts in the state, and her invitation to the event is a feather in Kansas' cap, he argued.
"It's appropriate to her assigned area," McKinney said, and added "it's as valuable" as the traditional conventions that legislators attend, such as the National Conference of State Legislatures, the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Council of State Governments.
And, he noted, the $1,000 she requested was less than the average $1,786 that the state paid per legislator who attended the August NCSL conference in Seattle.
But House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka, said one of his concerns was that for Winn to attend the Oxford meeting, she would have to miss one week from the legislative session.
House Speaker Pro Tem Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, said the trip "would set a precedent."
Members of the LCC decided to put off a decision on whether to provide Winn's request until its next meeting on Dec. 19.