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Legislature Loosens Travel Rules for Less Accountability

Bob Mercer follows up on his Wednesday list of legislator out-of-state travel reimbursements with a big Sunday feature on the Legislature's far-too-loose travel policy. Evidently the Legislature continues to slide away from rule of law and down into the arbitrary discretion of one man.

Mercer reports that the Legislature has a list of approved events for which legislators can foot the bill. But faced with requests from lawmakers who went to events off that list, the Legislature's Executive Board lost its nerve and handed decisions over to their chair:

But at least one trip fell outside those approved events.

Rep. Isaac Latterell, R-Tea, and Rep. Jim Stalzer, R-Sioux Falls, attended the meeting of the group called the Mount Vernon Assembly held in Indianapolis in June.

Maher said he gave that trip the go-ahead because last year he approved a trip by Rep. Ray Ring, D-Vermillion, to a special economic conference.

Rather than fight over the Mount Vernon matter, or tighten the policy, the board instead loosened the approval policy by adding a sentence to the policy effective Oct. 1 to give the chairman more latitude. It says, “Any out of state travel to a non-mentioned organization shall be at the discretion of the Executive Board chair” [Bob Mercer, "Secrecy Surounds Increased Travel by South Dakota Lawmakers," Rapid City Journal, 2014.09.14].

Combine this increased latitude with the Legislature's decision to end election of the Executive Board chair and hand that position to the House Speaker and the Senate President Pro-tem (in alternating years), and we see one less chance for accountability to policy and open vote and one more chance to concentrate power in the hands and the whim of one legislator.

Related Arithmetic: Eight Democratic legislators and seventeen Republican legislators have submitted vouchers for out-of-state travel since the end of the 2014 session. The average travel expense request among the Democrats is $741. The average travel expense expense request among the Republicans is $1,633. The thriftiest traveler is Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rep. Susan Wismer, who vouchered $252.51 for one trip. The most profligate globetrotter is Republican Speaker of the House Brian Gosch, who is claiming $4,339.09 for two trips.


  1. Roger Cornelius 2014.09.14

    Add this to the ever growing list of what makes South Dakota so corrupt.
    All political travel by legislature should not be paid for by the state, they should be paid by the political party.
    And of course there is the obvious, the lack of transparency in state government. South Dakota taxpayers have every legislature traveled, their purpose for traveling, and cost that we all pay for it.

  2. Nick Nemec 2014.09.14

    The trip to the Mount Vernon Assembly sounded odd, especially when two of the biggest kooks in the legislature are attending. It's a far right organization intent on getting resolutions calling for a Constitutional Convention passed in enough states to force a new Constitutional Convention and a rewriting of the US Constitution.

    Danger, there be monsters.

  3. JeniW 2014.09.14

    We knew it would happen when the legislators approved the $500,000.00 for paid membership to ALEC and per diem to attend ALEC related activities, there would be no accountability of the the money, nor reports of what was gained or learned from those activities.

    The Governor and legislators gave themselves a $500,000.00 voucher to do whatever they want to do with it.

    I can understand the concept of enhancing knowledge and skills, that is a good thing. But when the information is not shared with others, it is not as good as it could and should be.

  4. John 2014.09.14

    More related arithmetic:

    "William Gale and Andy Samwick have a new Brookings paper out on the relationship of tax rates and economic growth in the U.S. …Short answer, there is no relationship. They do not identify any change in the trend growth rate of real GDP per capita with changes in marginal income tax rates, capital gains tax rates, or any changes in federal tax rules. ….

    The upshot is that there is no evidence that you can change the growth rate of the economy – up or down – by changing tax rates – up or down. …
    The effects of tax cuts on growth are completely uncertain."

  5. rollin potter 2014.09.14

    Nick, glad to see your comment! I have missed your comments lately !!! Hang in there partner!!

  6. grudznick 2014.09.14

    Ms. Jenni, did the Governor give the legislatures $500,000 as a playground spending account or did the legislatures give themselves $500,000 as a slush fund? I did not know the Governor could give the legislatures money. If so, he should take all their money away and make them be accountable like everybody else. Did you know the legislatures don't even have to track their spending and have no real budget? This is a fact that Mr. Mercer has pointed out before. They all need to be slapped with a wet towel a few times between now and when they start wasting money by meeting. Free money, free food, and then they don't even work. Slapped, I say.

  7. grudznick 2014.09.14

    I am told that if you look on the state website it shows that Ms. Wismer voted for this bill that gave the legislatures $500,000 in unaccountable travel money. That is even insaner than the stuff that Mr. Howie would do.

  8. Dr. Math 2014.09.14

    Do legislators have to follow the same travel rules as a state employ does? State employees must have out of state travel approved ahead of time by completing a form with the estimated cost. Then when they return they have to complete a reimbursement form, with a certain allowance per day for meals and hotels.
    Why does it seem that every day I see a story that helps me understand why we are the 8th most corrupt state in the nation?

  9. Paul Seamans 2014.09.14

    Correct me if my math is wrong but doesn't $1,408,000 spilt amongst 105 legislators come out to $13,000 per legislator? Isn't the base salary around $6,000? Do I have this figured right?

  10. JeniW 2014.09.14

    I could have been, and probably wrong about the Governor giving the legislators $500.000.00 to play ALEC with, but would he not have to had approve it?

    If he had to approve it, to me that is the same is giving. If he did not have to approve it, then I was wrong, and the legislators are to be given 100% of the blame/credit.

  11. Deb Geelsdottir 2014.09.14

    Do other states pay all the ALEC costs for their Republicans from state coffers?

  12. Michael B 2014.09.15

    Note to legislators: You do NOT have to travel to get good ideas. You talk to the residents of your districts. You do NOT have to attend out of state conventions. You need to LISTEN at HOME.

  13. Roger Cornelius 2014.09.15


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