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Alaska lawmakers hit the road, with travel to places including Hawaii, New Orleans, overseas

Posted: August 22, 2011 - 9:28pm  |  Updated: August 22, 2011 - 9:53pm

ANCHORAGE — At least one-fifth of the Alaska Legislature attended a conference in Hawaii this month, at a cost so far of nearly $35,000.

The Anchorage Daily News reports the final tab is still being tallied from the Council of State Governments-West conference, a nonpartisan policy group comprised of lawmakers from Western states. Its annual conferences are rotated among states. This year’s event was at the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel.

Hotel bills for each of the lawmakers have ranged from $729 to $1,276, excluding charges for Republican Bert Stedman, of Sitka. He was in a suite with a bill averaging more than $900 a night, but he said he didn’t realize the cost until he got the bill at check-out. He attributed this to a mistake by his office but said he didn’t consider paying the bill himself because “I didn’t really mess it up, it’s an internal screw-up within the office.”

Stedman, a leader of the powerful Senate Finance Committee and a frequent traveler on state business, said he had asked his office to inquire about a free upgrade. He said he was embarrassed by the cost of the suite and that it wouldn’t happen again.

For Alaska lawmakers, summer and fall are busy travel seasons, coming between legislative sessions. So far this year, travel has included a trip to Greece for the Special Olympics for Sen. Lesil McGuire and Rep. Bob Lynn, both Republicans from Anchorage, and a meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council in New Orleans, attended by Sen. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, and Rep. Wes Keller, R-Wasilla.

Ten lawmakers are expected to attend a “Norway policy tour,” from Aug. 27-Sept. 4.

For the Hawaii trip, Alaska lawmakers also received a state meal per diem that totaled more than $750 apiece for most of them. The state also paid the $350 conference fee for most, plus shuttle bus and taxi costs in Hawaii.

Those attending, who had state-paid travel to the conference, according to the Legislative Affairs Agency, included Sens. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage; Bettye Davis, D-Anchorage; John Coghill, R-North Pole; Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage; Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla; Linda Menard, R-Wasilla; Stedman and McGuire. House members who attended included Reps. Lynn, Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak; Carl Gatto, R-Palmer; Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage; and Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake.

The newspaper reported at least two others, Rep. Lindsey Holmes, D-Anchorage, and Rep. Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks, were seen at the event.

Meyer, the Senate majority leader and a leader of the Senate Education Committee, said that CSG-West conferences are good for exchanging ideas on issues like budgets and the economy. He said his conference fee was waived because he served on an education panel, and that he appreciated a conference training session on making effective political presentations.

“That’s a problem that I have personally, is that I tend to give speeches and not relay the messages,” he said.

Stedman, who also didn’t submit a conference fee for state reimbursement, said he gave a presentation on Alaska’s fiscal position and pressed Hawaii legislators about why Hawaii wasn’t trying to buy Alaska natural gas.

Last year, Alaska’s 60 legislators spent more than $710,300 on state-paid travel, both in Alaska and out of state, according to Legislative Affairs. That figure doesn’t include relocation to Juneau for the legislative session.

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