California Legislative Staff Travel at Taxpayers Expense
According to a Sacramento Bee analysis of travel records since 2013, the California Legislature has spent over $192,000 in public funds for international travel by staff members. Locations included places such as Japan, Paris, Brazil, Mexico City, and Cuba. Last year, the Legislature’s annual expenditures topped $267 million, primarily for salaries and benefits, with staff foreign travel representing a tiny fraction of that amount. In addition to using campaign accounts, lawmaker travel is occasionally funded by nonprofit organizations or foreign governments. Secretary of the Senate Danny Alvarez told the Sacramento Bee,
There’s always a legislative purpose when they’re doing these trips. [The lawmakers] need to have exacting agendas and itineraries [to justify the travel.]
Apparently, hotel accommodations make up the largest cost for international travel by legislative staff, which totaled about $92,000 in the past five years. The Sacramento Bee’s analysis revealed that some locations where legislative staff has stayed, such as the Hotel Bellevue Palace in Bern, Switzerland, cost over $300 per night. The Legislature spent the following on travel in the past five years: $49,098 on airfare; $24,576 on per diem payments, the daily allowances for public employees on business trips to cover living expenses; $10,686 on transportation such as train tickets; and $6,737 on interpreting services. The remaining expenditures, about $7,300, include miscellaneous items such as overweight baggage fees; tips for drivers, concierges, and porters; and tickets to cultural sites. Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association President Jon Coupal has questioned why lawmakers are using campaign funds to pay for travel if it is legitimately in the public interest, and why the public is then still on the hook for staff costs. We will have to wait and see if there will be any changes made to limit the amount that taxpayers end up paying for legislative staff travel.