Archive for Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Legislators traveling on taxpayers’ dime

July 15, 2008, 12:00 a.m. Updated July 15, 2008, 11:41 a.m.


— State elected leaders have called for belt-tightening in the face of state budget problems. But they are still traveling at taxpayer expense.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius just completed attending the National Governor's Association in Philadelphia, and she is now on a trade mission in England for the week.

Fifteen legislators and two staff members are participating in the Council of State Governments meeting in Rapid City, S.D., that is running now through Wednesday.

Seventeen legislators and eight staff plan to travel to New Orleans for the National Conference of State Legislatures meeting July 22-26.

And nine legislators and two staff members have put in to attend the American Legislative Exchange Council meeting in Chicago from July 30 through Aug. 3.

'Traveling squad'

The number of lawmakers on the "traveling squad" has decreased drastically from last year when 59 people attended NCSL. But much of that has to do with the fact that last year was not an election year and this year all state House and Senate positions are on the ballot.

Of those traveling, most have no opponent in the primary, and many face little or no opposition in the general election.

House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, is attending CSG and plans to attend NCSL.

His spokeswoman Sherriene Jones said while Neufeld's expenses will be paid, he will forgo his legislative pay during the days he is at the conferences. Lawmakers make $88.66 per day when they are on the job.

Jones said the conferences provide valuable information to legislators.

"They gain a lot of benefit in meeting legislators from other states," she said. "There are a number of sessions on budget concerns, looking at new ways to create new revenue, cut costs and consolidate programs."

Who's paying?

House Majority Leader Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, is at CSG and plans to attend NCSL and ALEC. His staff said his ALEC expenses will be paid for through a scholarship, which is funded by corporate sponsors. And he will pay his own way to NCSL, his office said.

"Being in leadership, it's very important that he and the speaker are up on the issues," said Merrick's political director Wade Hapgood. Merrick also will forgo legislative pay while at the conferences, Hapgood said.

But most of the travelers will be seeking reimbursement for expenses. State officials say it is impossible to tell what the total cost of the travel is to the taxpayer until after the bills are in.

Meanwhile, in recent weeks, leaders have called for state agencies to rein in spending because revenues are falling below expectations.

Who's going where

According to the Legislative Administration Department, those attending the CSG meeting are Neufeld and Merrick; Reps. Clay Aurand, R-Courtland; Ann Mah, D-Topeka; Eber Phelps, D-Hays; Jene Vickrey, R-Louisburg; and Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing. State Rep. Valdenia Winn, D-Kansas City, is attending but paying her own way. On the Senate side, those attending are Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton; Pat Apple, R-Louisburg; Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence; David Haley, D-Kansas City; Carolyn McGinn, R-Wichita; Mike Peterson, R-Wichita; Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka; and Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita.

Those planning to attend NCSL at this point are Neufeld; Merrick; state Reps. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence; John Faber, R-Brewster; Pat George, R-Dodge City; John Grange, R-El Dorado; Carl Holmes, R-Liberal; Deena Horst, R-Salina; Forrest Knox, R-Altuna; Harold Lane, D-Topeka; Jo Ann Pottorf, R-Wichita; Larry Powell, R-Garden City; Louis Ruiz, D-Kansas City; Winn; and Kevin Yoder, R-Overland Park. Senators going are Karin Brownlee, R-Olathe, and Haley.

Those planning to attend ALEC are Merrick; Elaine Bowers, R-Concordia; Mario Goico, R-Wichita; Gary Hayzlett, R-Lakin; Steve Huebert, R-Valley Center; Joe McLeland, R-Wichita; and Scott Schwab, R-Olathe. Senators planning on going are Ralph Ostmeyer, R-Grinnell, and Chris Steinegar, D-Kansas City.

Sebelius' expenses at the National Governor's Association meeting will be paid by taxpayers because she went as a representative of Kansas. The trade mission will be paid by the Kansas Department of Commerce with economic development funds that come from Kansas Lottery sales, officials said.

A previous version of this story incorrectly said that Merrick would pay his way to the CSG.


BigDog 9 years, 8 months ago

What Rothchild fails to mention is most often arrangements to attend these kinds of conference have to be made like in March or early April.Kropotkin, you demonstrate exactly what has been said for years .... the democratic party is really an organization that accepts everyone and respects all opinions of democrats whether they be liberal, moderate or conservative. okay i almost got that out with a straight face.

Frank Smith 9 years, 8 months ago

So that's where Steineger gets these stupid ideas: At ALEC, home of the right wing screwballs. It's hard to believe that Susan Wagle won't be attending. She's been a national officer for years.

Charles L. Bloss, Jr. 9 years, 8 months ago

Our tax dollars at work, in the middle of a recession! Thank you, Lynn

situveux1 9 years, 8 months ago

Let's see...Chatty Kathy goes to the final four on the taxpayer dime and that doesn't get into the article??? Ummm, hello...anybody in the Kansas press there???

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