INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana lawmakers took 188 trips during the past 26 months costing taxpayers a total of $343,490 during a time when Gov. Mike Pence has already said he plans to eliminate some state programs as he develops a proposed two-year budget.
Most of the trips involved government and legislative conferences around the country, but some included swanky hotel rooms and expensive flights to locations as far away as Alaska and Florida, The Indianapolis Star reports.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, who spent no public money on his own travel, said he believes the trips are worthwhile. He said House members are allowed one fully paid educational trip a year. After that, the state will only cover the cost of conference registration.
“The basic question is whether we want well trained and educated policymakers at the helm for the state,” he said. “I think, by and large, the training, education and networking that happens at these conferences is a net positive for Hoosier taxpayers.”
The newspaper found in a review of out-of-state travel records 86 Indiana lawmakers took such trips.
Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said he limits travel for senators to once a year, but makes exceptions for lawmakers who have leadership roles in organizations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council, the National Conference of State Legislatures or the Council of State Governments.
Julia Vaughn, policy director for Common Cause Indiana, a government accountability group that has criticized ALEC, questioned whether state money should be used to send lawmakers to that organization’s conferences
“I know NCSL probably gets some corporate funding, but I don’t think to the same extent as ALEC,” she said. “I see ALEC as more of a lobbying group than a professional association for legislators.”
Twenty-five Indiana lawmakers, all Republicans, spent $60,464 to attend events sponsored by ALEC, more money than was spent on the conferences of any other organization. ALEC brings together conservative lawmakers and private businesses to craft model legislation.
Long said he doesn’t have any concerns about lawmakers attending ALEC conferences, noting that NCSL has received criticism for leaning left.
“You are going to have critics on both sides of all these organizations,” Long said. “I don’t think ALEC deserves any more scrutiny than anyone else.”
Other lawmakers traveled for less conventional reasons. Sen. Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis, took a $1,200 trip to an event honoring the Indiana Fever at the White House. Breaux called her trip a “valid use of taxpayer dollars.”
Not all lawmakers think publicly funded travel is a good idea.
“I don’t think it’s an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars,” said Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel. “With technology and the Internet and our institutions of higher education, there shouldn’t be a need to spend taxpayer dollars for people to go out of state.”