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Lawmakers on budgetary leash when traveling

Posted August 26, 2008

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— North Carolina lawmakers traveling out of state must learn to eat and sleep on the cheap to meet state guidelines.

Lawmakers get reimbursed $126 a day for hotel and meals for out-of-state travel.

"(The limit is) set by general statute, and that general statute was set in 1993. So, it hasn't gone up," said Wesley Taylor, financial services manager for the General Assembly.

About 40 representatives and senators, along with 30 legislative staffers, traveled to New Orleans in July for a national legislative conference.

Close to 20 lawmakers have submitted expense reports so far, and they average about $1,000 each for the five-day conference. The state paid for flight, ground transportation, lodging and meals.

State Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Wake, said her experience at the National Conference of State Legislatures in New Orleans was invaluable. She said she learned about public transit, ethics, law, and public policy.

"I'm a much more informed lawmaker, and I learned a lot from my colleagues around the country," Ross said.

To put the per-diem expense limit in perspective, the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau said the average cost of a conference hotel room alone was $153 a night.

According to AAA, two people traveling together should expect to spend $244 a day. A double-occupancy room averages $164 a night, and meals are about $40 a person, the organization said.

Ross said she scrimped on the trip by sharing a hotel room with state Rep. Margaret Dickson, D-Cumberland, and she also spent some of her own money – as did many of her colleagues.

By law, legislators can use campaign money for expenses connected to a conference. Some lawmakers are expected to pay for the entire trip using their own money.

"For the amount of money the state spent, I really think I got a huge value," Ross said.

The legislative travel guidelines – lawmakers also are reimbursed 29 cents per mile for using their cars to travel – contrast sharply with the expenses incurred by Gov. Mike Easley and his wife, Mary Easley, in recent overseas trips.

The Easleys spent more than $100,000 on an April trip to Italy sponsored by the state Department of Commerce, including $51,640 for a chauffeured Mercedes. Mary Easley also took a pair of overseas trips in the past two years to visit museums in Europe at a total cost of $109,000.

Renee Hoffmann, a spokeswoman in the governor's office, said hotels and meals on official Department of Commerce trips overseas are reimbursed fully.

8 Comments

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  • dplowman Aug 27, 2008

    We pay our people thirty five dollors a day for food and the hotel averages eighty a night (but wait we are trying to make money when we travel thats why we have national accounts with hotels for cheaper rates) If the state wants to travel let them do it like a buisiness and try to save money. (But they cannot stay in a CHEAP HOTEL) the taxpayers are paying for it.
    Wonder how much these people would pay a night if they had to pay for it? And fourty dollors a meal where and what do they eat?

  • chfdcpt Aug 27, 2008

    Colliedave, you beat me to it. How do you learn about ethics from a conference or trip? Then again, who is really at fault for sending those yahoos to Raleigh anyway?

  • colliedave Aug 26, 2008

    State Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Wake, said her experience at the National Conference of State Legislatures in New Orleans was invaluable. She said she learned about public transit, ethics, law, and public policy

    What did she learn that she couldn't have learned from sometime on the 'net. If it takes a trip to learn about ethics she shouldn't be in public office!

  • BE Aug 26, 2008

    News Flash.....Thousands of State employees who have to travel both in NC and out of state generally take a loss on their travel expenses over time.

  • mebgirl1984 Aug 26, 2008

    Do as I say, not as I do, eh Mikey?

  • whatelseisnew Aug 26, 2008

    They all should travel on their own dime. These trips are just taxpayer paid for vacations. Maybe they ought to be here looking for ways to reduce the horrific amount of money they are spending.

  • Wenchmaid Aug 26, 2008

    I bet Easley's glad he's exempt from that rule. We paid for his wife's expenses overseas as well and she's not a state employee; she has her ever deepening pockets stitched in at the university.

  • Tax Man Aug 26, 2008

    It makes sense to have the legislators double up when they travel to conventions and the like. They have chosen this "occupation" and should be prepared to come out of their salaries to cover "necessary" expenditures not paid by the taxpayers. It is a shame that Easley stole so much money from the taxpayers on his trips - and he still has the gall to steal more from the highway trust fund and then call for tax increases to fix the dilapidated roads in NC. He is just a crook, liar and thief. Looking forward to his departure. Better check the silverware as he moves out of the mansion...