Lawmakers explain their taxpayer-funded travel habits
Recently the Louisville Courier Journal published a story regarding which Kentucky State Legislators travel out of state the most and the reasons for their travel, sometimes on taxpayer money. According to that story, state legislators made 255 out-of-state trips to conferences or summits in relation to their jobs. Kentucky taxpayers payed roughly $349,731 in salary and travel expenses between November 2016 and November 2017 for those trips.
According to the Courier Journal, about 80 of the trips’ expenses were paid for by the organizations sponsoring them, leaving no cost to the tax payers.
Most of the legislators who took more than one trip had a role at the conferences.
That was the case for roughly half of the trips that Senator Whitney Westerfield made out of state last year.
“I only go to these conferences for one of two reasons. I’m either asked to speak on a panel about some subject matter or I’m going to listen to other people speak and educate me on some subject matter. They almost always have something to do with criminal justice reform or criminal justice generally,” Westerfield explained.
“These conferences are a valuable opportunity to learn from others, what works in other states, to get ideas and to brainstorm solutions for Kentuckians and it gives us an opportunity to showcase what we in Kentucky have done that is working or, in some instances, what hasn’t worked in Kentucky,” he said.
Westerfield traveled to seven conferences last year and traveled to two National Conferences of State Legislatures Juvenile Justice Work Group, the first at Newport Beach, Calif. and the second in New York City. Westerfield was the co-chair for the panel at both of these conferences.
He also traveled to the National Conference of State Legislatures Cybersecurity Task Force at Santa Fe, N.M., MacArthur Foundation Conference at Washington, D.C., Faith & Freedom Coalition at Washington, D.C., American Legislative Exchange Council in Denver, and National Conference of State Legislatures in Boston.
Westerfield emphasized that these conferences don’t just help him and other legislators but also the people of Kentucky and the local community.
“The conferences give an opportunity to learn and I think being better at the job is better for my constituents and better for the people of Kentucky,” Westerfield said. “I think it makes our public policy better and more informed. That’s a good thing.”
Westerfield’s total salary paid by taxpayers for his out-of-state trips was $2,635.08 while his total expenses equated to $2,397.29.
Representative Walker Thomas was the only other local legislator that made an out-of-state trip to attend a conference last year. Thomas attended the Southern Legislative Conference at Biloxi, Miss.
“If we’re going to try to pull industry into our state and into our community then it is imperative that we speak with other legislators from different states. You can gain some great ideas. There’s good things and great ideas that you can share at these conferences,” Thomas commented.
“It’s a great way to network and see what other people are doing and what other legislators have tried and have not worked. For me to be able to go out and get ideas and bring them back to our state is really valuable,” he said.
Thomas’s paid salary for his single out-of-state trip was $564.66 while his total expenses were $1,504.56.
The Courier Journal found that Sen. Mike Wilson and Rep. Joni Jenkins had taken the most trips to out-of-state conferences.
Wilson traveled to 11 such meetings between late 2016 and late 2017, totaling $6,399 in salary.
Jenkins also traveled to 11 meetings last year, earning $5,646 in salary.
In order for senators or representatives to travel for any work-related trip, legislators must get written approval from the House speaker or Senate president.
Legislators are paid $188.22 per day for salary on these taxpayer funded trips. The House speaker and Senate president get more per day at $235.57.