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StarBulletin.com

Lawmakers should pay their own way


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POSTED: Friday, July 24, 2009

Having weathered the public outcry about their biggest wage increase ever, 16 Hawaii Democratic legislators have been spending this week at a national conference in Philadelphia at public expense. The size of the delegation is far too large, an affront to state employees facing pay cuts and possible furloughs or layoffs because of the state's budget crisis. The legislators should pay for their trip with their own money to keep it from falling under the description of junket.

The National Conference of State Legislatures is a vibrant organization, and its annual Legislative Summit is undoubtedly of value to those who attend. Rep. Michael Magaoay, the House vice speaker, said the legislators “;took the trip because we need to see what the other states are doing”; while faced with economic troubles.

The NCSL is such an effective source of that information that no trip was necessary. The conference maintains a valuable Web site that includes up-to-date information about what each state is doing to cope with budget problems associated with the recession.

The annual meeting, which began Monday, has featured 150 government symposiums, forums with two Obama administration officials, a Patti LaBelle concert at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and a special rate for a baseball game between the Chicago Cubs and the World Champion Phillies, featuring All-Star center fielder Shane Victorino of Maui.

House Minority Leader Lynn Finnegan said House Republicans informally agreed to cut back on such trips because of the state's fiscal condition. “;You have to make a call and I think the call this year was: If we do go, we go on personal funds, at our own expense.”;

Airfare and hotel costs for the week are figured to range from $1,600 to $3,000, and registration was $625 at the door or $499 for early registrants. The total cost will be known after the legislators submit their expense reports to be compensated from legislative allowance funds, if they are shameless enough to do so. The total could come close to $50,000 for the delegation, about the same as pay withheld from four state workers forced to take furlough three times a month for two years.

In comparison, Florida will spend $55,000 for attendance by 12 senators and 27 representatives at the Philadelphia convention or an unrelated legislative conference in Atlanta. The Florida House limits each member to $1,150 for one conference at state expense while the Senate pays $2,000 for each member.

The money being spent on the Florida conventioneers is the equivalent of funding 21 children in prekindergarten classes, or reinstating bonuses for seven teachers who become nationally certified, or paying for $117 in vaccines for 470 underprivileged children, according to the Miami Herald.