The following editorial first appeared in the Ketchikan Daily News:
Alaska officials should severely limit state travel, particularly given the latest $91,000 trip taken by 42 legislators and staff.
Seventeen legislators and 25 staff members attended the National Conference of State Legislatures’ annual summit in Seattle in August. For some, hotel charges reached over $400 per night.
The legislators included 16 House members and one senator from Eagle River. Sen. Anna MacKinnon is co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee. Rep. Mark Neuman of Big Lake also attended; he is co-chair of the House Finance Committee.
The conference is designed to give states influence on national policy.
The trip comes in the midst of state budget cuts as a result of declining oil revenue. Cuts reached $400 million this year, and higher reductions are anticipated in the future.
This all goes to say:
• The trip cost the equivalent of between one and two state positions held by Alaskans in a period when state jobs are being lost.
• Downtown Seattle hotels charge twice those in nearby Southcenter or the airport. With rail service from Southcenter to downtown, hotel accommodations could have been half what legislators and staff charged to the state.
• Perhaps in hindsight legislators might have selected a smaller, representative contingent and accomplished the same goal of including Alaska in the summit. It’s unlikely that 45 Alaskans needed to be there. It’s a stretch that even half that number had to attend, whether the state is in a financial crisis or not. Just because we have the money — when we do — is no reason to spend it.
We don’t doubt that Alaska gained something from the summit, but how much is the question. That should be answered in a legislative report to Alaskans. We’re interested.
Legislators also should consider the perception of travel such as that undertaken for the Seattle summit. The price of Alaska’s attendance, without an aforementioned report, seriously hurts the Legislature’s credibility with Alaskans.
Such trips probably aren’t limited to the Legislature, either. Given that this trip occurred, Alaskans now only wonder what other state officials are traveling unnecessarily, especially in a day and age of high-technological communication.
It’s a new day in Alaska. We don’t have the money we used to have to spend on summits outside of the state. We can be more frugal in our travel choices.