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Republican Legislators Lead in Out-of-State Travel Reimbursements

I’ve been reviewing an updated summary of FY2017 legislator travel reimbursements provided by the Legislative Research Council. This updated list includes “miscellaneous” charges along with transportation, lodging, and food incurred on trips to out-of-state events. Adding those miscellaneous charges brings the total taxpayer dollars spent on trips to pro-corporate ALEC propaganda sessions to $19,751.54, about a thousand dollars more than I calculated from the original sheet LRC provided earlier this fall.

Forty legislators spent $79,914.83 traveling to out-of-state legislative conferences in FY2017. That’s almost $2,000 per traveling legislator.

Since Republicans hold 85% of our Legislative seats, we’d expect them to make up the majority of travelers. Indeed, Republicans made up 80% of the legislators reimbursed for out-of-state travel and received 86% of the reimbursement dollars.

But consider: 32 Republicans went on 58 trips costing us $68,502.04. Eight Democrats went on ten trips costing us $11,412.79. Thus, Republican travelers averaged 1.8 trips while Democrats averaged 1.3 trips. Total travel reimbursements per Republican were $2,140.69, while total travel reimbursements per Democrat were $1,426.60.

In other words, Republicans charged us an average of 50% more for out-of-state travel than did Democrats.

The top ten travel spenders were all Republicans, with Rapid City lawmakers Sen. Terri Haverly and Rep. Kristin Conzet each racking up over $5,000 in taxpayer-funded travel to other states:

Legislator Party Total Travel Reimb
Haverly, Terri R 5842.02
Conzet, Kristin R 5428.78
Heinemann, Leslie R 3797.64
Tieszen, Craig R 3773.94
Stalzer, Jim R 3511.66
Sly, Jacqueline R 3303.34
Soholt, Deb R 3184.20
Holmes, Thomas R 3103.85
Romkema, Fred R 2909.47
Gosch, Brian R 2684.89
Frerichs, Jason D 2582.45
Wollmann, Mathew R 2341.84
Langer, Kris R 2295.91
Hawley, Spencer D 2209.57
Bolin, Jim R 2123.57
Bradford, Jim D 2113.06
Duvall, Mary R 2022.92
Jensen, Phil R 1912.00
Soli, Karen D 1793.02
Solum, Roger R 1782.02
Hunt, Roger R 1495.99
Novstrup, Al R 1473.84
DiSanto, Lynne R 1470.82
Netherton, Jenna R 1465.08
Russell, Lance R 1423.92
Latterell, Isaac R 1398.39
Cronin, Justin R 1344.72
Peters, Deb R 1297.53
Schaefer, James R 1267.87
Steinhauer, Wayne R 1193.72
Hunhoff, Jean R 1126.37
Killer, Kevin D 1075.01
Wink, Dean R 962.58
Rhoden, Larry R 816.12
Mickelson, G. Mark R 754.60
Maher, Ryan R 707.99
Parsley, Scott D 627.90
Ring, Ray D 535.32
McCleery, Steven D 476.46
Cammack, Gary R 284.45
 Total: 79,914.83

The costliest Democratic travelers, Sen. Jason Frerichs and Rep. Spence Hawley, each charged us less than half what each of the spendiest Republican travelers did.

Seven legislators who did not return to the 2017 Legislature spent $9,576.81 before their terms were up. Democrat Scott Parsley and Republican Roger Hunt were unseated in the general election, so we may understand the leadership reimbursing their summer 2016 travel.

However, Roger Solum and Jacqueline Sly lost their primary bids in early June; each went to two subsequent summer conferences out of state and received reimbursement. Sly at least served on the 2016 interim Legislative Planning Committee and Special Legislative Task Force; Solum appears not to have served on any 2016 interim committee where his June and July 2016 trips might have added value.

Legislators Jim Bradford, Fred Romkema, and Brian Gosch did not run for reëlection in 2016, yet each received reimbursement for out-of state travel in the latter half of 2016. Bradford traveled with thirteen other legislators to an NCSL summit in Chicago in August. Gosch went to ALEC meetings in Indianapolis in July and Washington D.C. in November. Romkema went to the MLC annual meeting in Milwaukee in July and a Midwest-Canada energy subcommittee meeting in December. Bradford was serving on four interim committees, Gosch on three, and Romkema on four where their out-of-state conference experiences may have added value.

The award for most expensive single trip goes to former Rep. Mathew Wollmann, who managed to rack up $2,341.84 on his trip to the August 2016 NCSL Annual Meeting. That’s 52% more than the average spent by the other thirteen legislators reimbursed for that trip was $1,540.56. Wollmann served on no interim committees, and then his sex scandal led to his resignation last January, before he could really apply whatever lessons he learned in Chicago to good legislation in the 2017 Session.


  1. Adam 2017-10-29

    I wish Democrats better embraced terms like, “I will be a watch dog over your tax dollars – to help keep the good old boys in our State Capitol in check and our taxes as low as possible.”

    Conserva-voters really eat that ‘keep taxes low’ rhetoric up, almost like it actually matters to them – after elections (when they almost completely stop paying any attention to government). Earning the crossover vote, in rural heavy R leaning, states means Democrats need to make ‘keeping taxes low’ a recurring theme.

    It’s sad, because ‘keeping taxes low,’ as a personal value, should go without saying. However, conserva-voters need to hear it over, and over again, like a broken record, or they question the integrity of a candidate for public office. They start thinking, “this guy is more liberal than the other, and that means he’s an inferior conservative.”

    Billie needs to whip that ‘low taxes’ horse, no matter how unproductive it might feel. Good old boys do actually happen to be waaay too comfortable in Pierre, and it is truly costing taxpayers millions of dollars.

  2. Roger Cornelius 2017-10-29

    What Adam said!!

    This is just more of republicans taxing and spending while they attack Democrats for taxing and spending.

  3. mike from iowa 2017-10-29

    Your city or county or state or nation cannot run without tax revenues.

    The government of the US is charged with the defense of and the general welfare of the states and people.

    Welfare does not mean excess largesse for the extremely wealthy. It does not me they should not have to pay their fair share of the bills.

    Defense spending and waste is out of control. And is not necessary at even half its present burden. Congress has burdened the country with 4.9 trillion dollars of IOUs borrowing against social programs into the future.

    They have the obligation to raise revenues to repay those IOUs and they choose to cut benefits for future retirees excepting themselves of course.

    The new taxcuts wingnuts are keeping secret from the country look to add another 5 plus trillion to the debt.

    Most of this debt has been added since dumbass dubys and wingnuts decided the universe’s largest spending spree should be tempered with 2 rounds of taxcuts and then blame the Black guy for the debt.

  4. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-10-30

    Adam, could we reasonably promise to take no out-of-state junkets? Do conferences like the NCSL Annual Meeting add any value to a typical legislator’s performance that couldn’t be more cheaply achieved by reading a few good newspapers?

  5. Roger Cornelius 2017-10-30

    The only problem I have with the excessive travel by republican legislators is that they always come back.

  6. Rorschach 2017-10-30

    Out of state junkets add nothing to the legislative process in South Dakota. Reputable nonpartisan organizations like NCSL and CSG put out magazines for legislators and maintain websites with information on hot topics. With a minimal amount of effort and no public expense legislators can see what’s going on around the country and obtain model bills and even state-specific bills they might want to introduce.

    Legislators frequently use these meetings scheduled around the country to get the taxpayers to partially underwrite their family vacations by paying for the legislator’s plane ticket and food and paying for the hotel room that the whole family will stay in.

    Junkets to lobbying meetups of secretive groups like ALEC are detrimental to the public interest because they push the agendas of special interests.

    None of these junkets are worthy of taxpayer funding.

  7. Adam 2017-10-30

    I am 100% WITH Rorschach on this one.

  8. grudznick 2017-10-30

    I have heard the legislatures make the case that they need these junkets to learn about things. I say we should make them choose between the out-of-state junkets where their families get to stay in their room and the meals are furnished and the spectator pay to just attend meetings everybody else has to pay for or listen to on the radio. Cap them both at some hard number for all, and let them pick.

  9. Adam 2017-10-30

    Maybe Grudz is right. Perhaps conserva-legislators require one on one personal tutoring to learn about the issues of the day. They speak poor English; so, they probably have poor reading skills too. I can see why some people think that reading might be too challenging for them.

  10. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-10-30

    NCSL offers articles from its State Legislatures magazine online. I don’t know if/when their paywall kicks in, but two-year subscriptions are $82. $8,610 would subscribe all 105 legislators for their full term. We spent $22,369.18 to send 14 legislators to the 2016 NCSL annual meeting in Chicago.

    I’m on board: no reimbursements for out-of-state travel by legislators. Take the $79.9K we spent on out-of-state travel for 40 fleet-footed legislators and instead divide it up as $760 raises for all 105. Then they can subscribe to NCSL’s magazine and more newspapers.

  11. Adam 2017-10-30

    Know what? – they can even watch videos ONLINE to learn about issues. They can even attend live webinars and teleconferences – better than ever – in this modern age of animated info-graphics and all.

    To think that even the most incapable state legislator, needs to show up in-person to learn about government issues is just silly. I think the ‘need’ for meeting in person allows secret backroom handshakes more than it helps legislators learn.

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