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Sunday, April 6, 2003

Rake that muck

Sunday's Oregonian contained a nice front-page investigative piece by Les Zaitz on wasteful spending within the ranks of our state legislators. While transplant patients prepared to die, mentally ill folks wandered the streets, and poor kids got a second-rate education, our elected lawmakers continued during their oh-so-painful special sessions last year to burn money on some extremely questionable items. Among the lowlights:

The Legislature sold off hundreds of perfectly good chairs in one of its hearing rooms for 77 cents each, then went out and spent $212,000 for new ones.

Taxpayers spent nearly $3700 for the Legislature to print up a 122-page trivia book, not counting what we paid House Democratic Leader Deborah Kafoury's staff to write it.

The Legislature has its own cook, with two helpers, who serve food in a lounge which is off-limits to all but the elected politicians, at a cost of more than $43,000 a year.

Rep. Karen Minnis, R-Wood Village, and her husband, Sen. John Minnis, R-Wood Village, are reported to have taken a nice trip to Florida at taxpayers' expense. As Zaitz describes it:

Last August, Minnis and her husband, John, a state senator, flew to Florida for a meeting of conservative state legislators. By then, they had been through three budget-cutting special sessions and faced another one four days after returning from the Sunshine State.

The couple stayed at the Gaylord Palms Resort in Kissimmee, where the American Legislative Exchange Council was meeting. They also rented a car.

The resort is about 10 miles from the airport, but the couple drove 284 miles over six days. John Minnis said they "drove around the neighborhood" and went to nearby Disney World.

The two charged the trip's $2,289 cost to the state. That included a post-conference weekend at the resort and $464 for a Buick LeSabre. Minnis also brought her chief of staff, Gary Wilhelms, adding $1,496 to the cost.

According to the story, taxpayers also paid $1,990 to send Rep. Mark Simmons, in his final days as House speaker, and State Sens. Ken Messerle, R-Coos Bay, and Roger Beyer, R-Molalla --
to Hawaii for something called the Pacific Conference. They stayed at the Sheraton Maui, which promotes itself as "the perfect place to transform a business meeting into a mini-vacation."

The Pacific Conference involved morning sessions on public policy issues and free afternoons. Legislators said their lodging costs were covered by the Pacific Conference, but they weren't sure where its money came from.

Conference officials said 29 of America's largest companies -- including ExxonMobil and General Motors -- paid $5,000 each to fund the conference, including legislators' room bills.

But we taxpayers got to pay for the plane tickets for Simmons, Messerle and Beyer.

Shame, shame, on all of them.

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