by John Dankosky- People are still “buzzing” about Governor Jodi Rell’s decision not to attend the National Governors Association conference. Or, maybe that’s just the gentle buzz created by the Hartford Courant’s daily online poll. More on that later.
I had some fun with the fact that the governors of American Samoa, Guam and Puerto Rico were able to make it to Washington to advocate for federal dollars, while Rell stayed put. But in other states, governors’ offices have decided these get togethers aren’t worth the cost. This according to a report in The State newspaper:
Idaho GOP Gov. Butch Otter recently cut his office’s funding for attending the NGA meeting and will not pay the $60,000 membership dues because of state budget cuts, according to the Idaho Statesman. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, also a Republican, stopped paying for NGA membership and events in 2002.
The State’s hometown Governor Mark Sanford did attend the meeting, despite strict
travel policies for state employees. Of course, he’s already got problems with the South Carolina ethics commission, which is investigating him for use of state aircraft for “personal or political purposes.”
Given the other news facing Sanford at home, I don’t think anyone can blame him for getting the hell out of town.
But I was intrigued by the news of Idaho Governor Otter dropping his NGA membership, citing cost. I mean, it seems like he’s made a choice – either pay for a membership in an organization like this, and take part in all the opportunities it offers, or save the$60,000 in dues. But what if you pay for the membership and don’t attend the conference? Isn’t that a giant waste of money?
Turns out that it’s more expensive for the governor of Connecticut to join than it is for the governor of Idaho – $106,600 per year. And our governor’s office paid a total of $213,200 in 2008 and 2009 in dues to the National Governor’s Association (these numbers from CTSunlight.org). A week’s worth of phone calls on the subject from Rell’s office have not been returned (big surprise), so I don’t know whether her 2010 dues are current. But as the Courant’s Chris Keating reported late last year, it seemed important for the Governor to have the money in the budget for these dues. This excerpt from a story about the passage of a 2-year state budget, allowed to go into effect without Rell’s signature:
Democrats seemed unfazed by Rell’s veto of $8.3 million in earmarks and were relieved that the long budget battle was over. Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, a New Haven Democrat, said the items were “a relatively minor issue overall in a $37 billion budget.”
He noted that Rell had pushed for her own various “add-backs” that will become law in the final budget, including restoration of expenses and salary money for operating the lieutenant governor’s office and more than $700,000 for the governor’s office over two years for things such as dues for the National Governors Association. Democrats strongly opposed Rell’s numerous attempts to cut the budget, and they held press conferences to show their support for public education, libraries, Head Start, financial aid for college students and the state’s 62 family resource centers that provide services in public school buildings.
In December of 2008, Rell did attend the meeting in Philadelphia (left), where she got to meet with then President-elect Barack Obama. But this trip came months after she imposed an out-of-state travel ban, which I’ve been told was the reason for her to skip this year’s shindig. At the time of the ban she said, “Taxpayers rightfully expect us to be taking the same steps they are to live within our means.” But, as we learned from The Day this week, sometimes it’s okay to have a travel ban really isn’t a ban at all.
These big expenditures (and inconsistent application of fiscal prudence) provide a bit more context to the “buzz” question asked by the Courant: Should Gov. Rell have gone to national governors meeting? (It’s a question I asked earlier in the week.) So, what are the highly unscientific results (so far)?
56% say Yes – Given the state’s recent track record at winning federal funds, she should have been there. (357 responses)
22% say No – Her time is better spent working on the state budget. (140 responses)
9% say Yes – What politician doesn’t take face time with the president? (56 responses)
14% say No – She sets a good example by honoring the ban on state employee travel. (88 responses)
I think that adds up to 65% saying Yes for one reason or another, and 23% saying No. (I told you it wasn’t scientific…)
Several stories came out after our questions:
- Christine Stuart at CTNewsJunkie reported on Rell’s reaction to criticism that she’s not working hard enough to get federal funds (just as we learned that Connecticut missed out on even more money, this time for health information and training)
- WTNH’s Mark Davis also prodded the Governor on this…a story which prompted a bizarre string of comments online about whether President Obama is a racist. Thank God for the high-level dialog provided by the internet.
- The Courant’s Chris Keating picked up the story in the paper, and on the Capitol Watch blog.
- It even made it’s way onto the liberal blog MyLeftNutmeg.