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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eye On Boise

Solving the puzzle of North Idaho lawmakers’ differing airfares…

Perhaps the most puzzling part of last week’s AP report that showed two North Idaho lawmakers were the biggest spenders on travel during the most recent legislative session was the big disparity between what various North Idaho lawmakers charged the state for their airfare – when they all ride on the same plane. The North Idaho lawmakers take the Southwest flight that goes from Boise to Spokane at 5:45 p.m. Fridays, and from Spokane back to Boise at 5:10 p.m. Sundays.

I’ve now gotten to the bottom of it. Three North Idaho lawmakers always or almost always fly “Business Select” on Southwest, according to state records obtained through a public records request; a fourth chose that option for two of his five flights. That makes their fares higher, at $460 round-trip, plus gives them perks like priority boarding, a priority security lane, a complimentary premium drink and double mileage rewards.

Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, traveled Business Select for every one of his 13 flights home for the weekend during the session; his average flight cost was $460. Rep. Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d’Alene, did the same for every one of her five flights home during the session; her average was the same. And Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, billed the state for that class for some of his flights, ending up with an average flight cost of $441 for his 13 flights. Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, chose Business Select for two of his five flights home, for an average per-flight cost of $322.

Nonini and Barbieri were the top spenders because they also flew home the most often; lawmakers are entitled to one trip home per week.

At the other end of the spectrum, the North Idaho lawmakers spending the least on their flights were Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, whose four flights home during the session averaged just $153; and Rep. Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene, whose 12 flights home averaged $230. Rep. Eric Redman, R-Post Falls, wasn’t far behind, with his six flights showing an average cost of $237. Like most North Idaho lawmakers, they never flew “Business Select.” They also got discounts by purchasing their flights well in advance. You can read my full Sunday column here.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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