WRAL Investigates

Top state workers rack up thousands in travel expenses

Posted May 3, 2010 6:00 p.m. EDT
Updated May 4, 2010 5:56 p.m. EDT

WRAL Investigates

— In these difficult budget times, state agencies are pressed to cut. But at the Department of Revenue, some expenses don't change.

The vast majority of the nearly 1,400 revenue employees pay their own way to commute to work. However, internal records show taxpayers cover much of the commute costs for two top managers.

John Sadoff, who makes $119,000 annually to head up the tax compliance division, and Alan Woodard, who earns $93,000 as director of examinations, both get reimbursed for all of their business travel, according to Department of Revenue Secretary Ken Lay.

Lay says auditors and supervisors travel all over the state. WRAL found Sadoff and Woodard, who live in the Charlotte area, racked up sizable mileage, food and lodging costs – often logging trips directly from home to the main office in Raleigh.

During the past two years, Sadoff was reimbursed more than $42,000, and Woodard got back nearly $36,000. WRAL shared the numbers with lawmakers, including Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford.

“I'm very interested in the outcome of this, because I think there's a lot of this through state government,” Bloust said.

“I don't think it's unreasonable,” said Lay, who noted that expenses for Sadoff and Woodard make up less than 1 percent of the department's entire travel budget.

While the two high-ranking officials did travel the state, records show the majority of their time was spent in Raleigh.

During the two year period which WRAL examined, Sadoff was in Raleigh 325 days. During that same time, he traveled to nine other towns a total of 30 times. Woodard spent 248 days in Raleigh between 2008 and 2009 and 28 days in six other cities outside Charlotte.

When asked if he understands that other state employees might wonder why they are not reimbursed for commuting to work, Lay said “the emPHAsis is on the wrong syLLAble.”

The secretary joked that travel reimbursement questions are misguided. He says telecommuting or moving to Raleigh can't eliminate the need for travel.

Still, the more than 300-mile round-trip commute is not minuscule. Records show Sadoff traveled to Raleigh last year 167 out of 261 business days, or 64 percent of the time. Woodard spent 131 work days in Raleigh, or 50 percent of the time.

“We need to ask our managers to review their costs and see what we can do to reduce them,” said Sen. David Hoyle, D-Gaston.

Hoyle said he believes it's a business decision for the Department of Revenue.

“What's the value of these people to the company and is this justifiable in their compensation?” he asked.

Lay argues that his veteran employees are invaluable and points to the $424 million in unexpected corporate tax collections the department brought in last year. Sadoff and Woodard led the way.

“I think that's a pretty good return on investment,” Lay said. “John Sadoff is the Lebron James of tax compliance.”

Yet, as all agencies complain about budget troubles, Lay admits the expenses of his stars deserve a closer look.

“Well, certainly, now that the issue has come up, I'm going to look at it,” he said.

WRAL ran calculations using state motor fleet vehicles instead of personal cars. While a state car wouldn't eliminate the costs, it could reduce expenses by thousands of dollars based on mileage.