This week the Joint Appropriations Committee announced state agencies will be required to reduce their budgets by 5-8%. They also have legislation drafted to cut state employee retirement and eliminate cost of living increases. You might recall how legislators trashed unemployed workers as “lazy” when the legislature rejected 38 million dollars for unemployment benefits.
These are the same “fiscal conservatives” who thought it okay to use your tax dollars to treat 25 of the members of the Wyoming legislature to a vacation meeting at the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel in Honolulu last August.
Several legislators have argued the trip was “important.” I’m sure it was. They all are. It was a meeting of the Council of State Governments and the agenda included such critical topics as “To Tweet or Not to Tweet.” There was an “early bird walk” along the beach every morning and a hospitality room every evening. Of course there were more substantive topics but nothing that would have justified sending such a huge contingent of so-called “citizen legislators” to Hawaii for a week.
The junket cost taxpayers more than $58,000. Only one legislator, State Senator Dan Dockstader (Lincoln, Sublette and Teton Counties), decided the trip was extraordinary enough to pay his own way. The others let you pick up the tab.
Having been a state agency head, I know a double standard when I see one. If a state agency had sent one person, much less a third of its staff to Honolulu, imagine the beating he or she would have taken in front of the Joint Appropriations Committee…and yet there on the beach was the House JAC Chair, Rosie Berger along with former JAC chair John Schiffer, Senate President Jim Anderson and House Speaker Ed Buchannan.
The Hawaiian vacationers who really caught my attention were the ten who thought long-term unemployed Wyoming workers were so lazy they should be denied unemployment benefits. They (and approximately how much you paid for their trip to Hawaii) are Speaker of the House Ed Buchanan ($2300), Kathy Davison ($2302), Gerald Gay ($2700), Elaine Harvey ($2550), Allen Jaggi ($2220), Tom Lockhart ($2525), Robert McKim ($2330), Owen Peterson ($2260), Mark Semlek ($2108), and Matt Teeters ($2303).
Teeters said unemployed workers should be denied taxpayer help because he didn’t want “to create a perverse incentive that would keep people from trying to find a job.” Seems taxpayer funded trips to Hawaii may create a “perverse incentive” to run for the legislature.
The legislature plays an important role in holding state agencies accountable for how they spend your tax dollars. Agency heads know if they permit questionable use of state funds, there will be a day of reckoning. Travel budgets are particularly vulnerable to second-guessing. Members of the legislature don’t hesitate to demand explanations for any expenditure that appears to be unusual or ill advised. It’s called accountability.
But who holds the legislature accountable. Their leaders not only approved the Hawaiian trip, they went with the others to Honolulu. Is the Joint Appropriations Committee going to call them on the carpet? Not likely when the House Appropriations Committee chair was a fellow traveler.
The voters don’t seem interested in holding them accountable either. Eighteen of the legislators who went to Hawaii ran unopposed in their last general election, as did a large majority of all their colleagues. I guess it’s true. In a democracy the voters get what they deserve. And unaccountable legislators get a free trip to Hawaii.
Having returned sun tanned and rested from Waikiki, they got down to the business of cutting the budgets of others and writing legislation to eviscerate the state retirement program. They want to eliminate cost of living increases, clarify that retirement is not a promise and, get this, fund an “education” program to teach retiree how to be more frugal and live on less. Really! Perhaps frugal retirees can learn they can afford a vacation…but only if they get elected to the legislature?
They get us coming and going which is sort of what is meant by “aloha."