SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico taxpayers have foot the bill for thousands of dollars of out-of-state travel by several lame-duck state lawmakers.
The Santa Fe New Mexican reports (http://bit.ly/185Owiq) that a law prohibits non-returning state legislators, unless the Legislative Council — a committee made up of legislative leaders — approves the travel.
The council voted unanimously on May 9 to give blanket authorization for reimbursement of out-of-state travel expenses to non-returning members.
Former Senate President Pro-tem Tim Jennings, then a member of the council who attended the May meeting, said in an interview this week that he voted to reimburse the legislators whose terms were ending because many of them had been active in national organizations, such as the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Council of State Governments-West.
But how does it help taxpayers to pay for lame ducks to travel out of state?
“Hopefully,” Jennings said, “they go there and promote the state, promote tourism.”
Last year, the state paid just over $92,000 to reimburse all lawmakers who traveled out of state. In 2011, the state spent slightly less than $94,000 on out-of-state travels for lawmakers.
All reimbursements for out-of-state travel for House members must be approved by the speaker, while senators must get reimbursement for their out-of-state trips approved by the Senate president pro-tem.
The non-returning legislators who got reimbursed for out of state travel last year are former Democratic Rep. Al Park of Albuquerque, former Democratic Sen. Lynda Lovejoy of Crownpoint, former Democratic Sen. Bernadette Sanchez of Albuquerque, former Democratic Sen. Bernadette Sanchez of Albuquerque and former Democratic Sen. David Ulibarri of Grants.
The state reimbursed Park, who ran for a seat on the Public Regulation Commission instead of his House seat last year, $1,911 to attend the National Conference of State Legislatures annual meeting in Chicago in August.
Park, who chaired the House Judiciary Committee and the interim Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee, said he had done work for the organization’s committee that studies criminal justice issues. Though he said going to sessions of NCSL can be valuable, Park said he didn’t take any out-of-state trips during the years of the state budget crisis.
Lovejoy, who lost her primary in June, was reimbursed $2,149 by the state for the NCSL meeting in Chicago.
Lovejoy said she went to Chicago because she was co-chairwoman of the NCSL’s Energy, Transportation and Agriculture Committee and that both the president pro-tem’s office and Legislative Council agreed the trip was justified.
Sanchez, who didn’t seek re-election, received $2,053 in reimbursement from the state for the Council of State Governments-West’s annual meeting in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, in July.
Like Park, Sanchez said even though she didn’t run for re-election, she still was a senator until the end of the year.
Jennings, who was defeated in the general election, was reimbursed $1,025 by the state for attending a conference on breast cancer. Asked how his trip to Chicago was beneficial to taxpayers, Park said last week, “I promised my constituents that I’d serve until the end of my term.”
Ulibarri couldn’t be reached for comment by the newspaper.