Reports show House travel spending more than doubled

Hank Stephenson//February 26, 2016

Reports show House travel spending more than doubled

Hank Stephenson//February 26, 2016

Canning jars containing various amounts of coins

The House is required to report its spending to the Arizona Department of Administration’s General Accounting Office. Although those records don’t detail which lawmakers or staff the chamber’s travel expenses were on behalf of, they offer a glimpse of the chamber’s spending on travel in the past year.

And the records show that spending on travel has more than doubled under House Speaker David Gowan.

In 2015, House lawmakers and their staff spent $72,000 on traveling.

That’s more than the House spent in 2013 and 2014 combined, when the chamber spent about $32,000 and $33,000, respectively.

The travel-related expenses are shown in several categories.

In 2015, the chamber spent more than $23,000 on airfare, mostly for trips out of the state. The House spent another $37,000 on travel-related lodging, the vast majority of which was for out-of-state travel, and spent almost $7,000 on meals, mostly outside Arizona. House lawmakers and staff members spent another $5,000 on miscellaneous travel expenses.

That doesn’t include mileage reimbursement for travel, which the General Accounting Office does not list separately from lawmakers’ daily mileage reimbursement for their trips to and from the Capitol.

By comparison, the Senate, which has half the number of lawmakers, about half the employees and roughly half the budget of the House, spent about 2 percent of what the House spent on travel in 2015.

According to records provided by the chamber and verified through the General Accounting Office, the Senate spent $1,200 on lodging in 2015, another $250 on meals and nothing on air fare.

Senate President Andy Biggs said his chamber rarely approves travel requests, and when senators ask him for one, he tells them they need to find a way to pay for it on their own.

“Our policy is we don’t do it,” he said.

Though the General Accounting Office’s data doesn’t tie travel expenditures to individual House lawmakers or staffers, it does list a date for each expenditure.

At least one of the large batches of spending matches up with a trip Gowan took with several of his top staffers to Washington, D.C.

On March 2, 2015, Gowan was in Washington, D.C., to watch U.S. Supreme Court arguments on the Legislature’s challenge to the authority of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. Gowan flew cross-country with an entourage that included the House attorney, the House GOP spokeswoman, a policy adviser and a deputy chief of staff. The chamber at the time acknowledged taxpayers paid travel costs for all of them.

In the following weeks, the House reported travel expenses of almost $13,000.

On March 9, the House posted an expense of $3,500 for out-of-state airfare. About a week later, the chamber posted a host of travel related expenses, including another $1,700 in airfare, $5,600 in out-of-state lodging, $1,000 in meals and another $1,000 in miscellaneous travel expenses.

The House would not provide its own documentation on the cost of that trip.

Biggs, on the other hand, paid his own way to watch the Supreme Court hear arguments in the case and didn’t bring the Senate attorney, who was one of the Legislature’s lawyers in the case.

In late September, records show House out-of-state travel jumped to more than $17,000 over a two-week period.

Late October and early November were also heavy times for taxpayer-funded travel: The House spent $12,000 on travel over a roughly two-week period.

House GOP spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said travel expenses are generally posted in the weeks before and after an event.

“We did a quick look at travel, and I do see that there was a good amount of travel in those months – for instance, in September we were conducting  intern recruitment, and it looks like the Chief Clerk’s Office had some professional development conferences,” she said, adding those were not the only trips in that period.

Grisham declined to provide documentation on how much the House spent on the intern recruitment or professional development conference.

There also are nearly four weeks of missing spending information in the General Accounting Office’s records, making it unclear if any additional travel expenditures were made. No expenses for the House were recorded between June 29 and July 22, 2015.

Grisham said the gap was due to vacation schedules by the staff that usually inputs the data, and because the House was transitioning a new accounting system.

“The state payroll system paid salaries, but did not post to the new accounting system,” she said in an email.

(Infographic by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)
(Infographic by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)