The Edmond Sun

August 31, 2009

House won’t pay members for out-of-state travel

EDMOND — OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — As Oklahoma lawmakers grapple with dwindling state revenue, House Speaker Chris Benge has suspended paying for out-of-state travel by House members.

“Out-of-state reimbursement for House travel was suspended based on a review of the revenues during the first month of this fiscal year and the expectation of continued declining revenues ahead,” Benge said Friday. “The suspension is a proactive way to cut back on House expenses.”

State officials are considering a special session to rework the fiscal year 2010 budget, after first-month revenues were substantially lower than expected.

General revenue fund collections for July were 26 percent less than the previous year and 18 percent less than the official state estimate on which the budget was based.

The freeze came after the House spent at least $13,502 for members to attend the National Conference of State Legislatures meeting July 20-24 in Philadelphia, and an additional $1,973 for two staff members to attend.

In July, the House spent at least $6,035 for members to travel to the American Legislative Exchange Council conference from July 15-18 in Atlanta. Travel claims are still being submitted for the Southern Legislative Conference meeting from Aug. 15-19 in Winston-Salem, N.C.

The figures include only the numbers for members who already have submitted claims for reimbursement, said Jennifer Monies, a spokeswoman for Benge.

The Senate has not suspended out-of-state travel.

Randy Swanson, a spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, said, “We are operating within our budget, and the pro tem is evaluating every request and assessing each individually. No decision has been made as to future travel requests.”