By Kimberlee Kruesi, Associated Press
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho lawmakers have billed state taxpayers $107,000 so far this year for travel expenses accrued during the 2017 legislative session.
The Associated Press obtained the information through a public records request for this year's travel reimbursements for the 105 state lawmakers in the House and Senate, which included costs of the organizational session in December. However, while many lawmakers have turned in their legislative travel reimbursement receipts, the Legislature doesn't have a deadline on when expenses need to be submitted.
Republican Rep. Vito Barbieri from Dalton Gardens, who often votes against state budget bills because they aren't lean enough, currently has received the highest in-state travel expenses for both House and Senate chambers, with a total of $7,100 in reimbursements. He also had the highest amount both last year and the year before.
Barbieri did not return requests for comment from The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Idaho encompasses more than 83,600 square miles that takes about 10 hours to drive from top to bottom, and there's no airport in northern Idaho that would enable lawmakers to fly nonstop from Boise. Instead, they often fly nonstop from Boise to Spokane, Washington and take a rental car to their homes in Idaho — all of which is reimbursed, including parking and fuel costs.
Yet despite being from the same region, lawmakers can vary widely on how much they charge the state to travel to the same spot.
During both the organizational and legislative session, Barbieri flew 12 times to Spokane on his way home with the average cost of his plane tickets at $410. Yet GOP Rep. Eric Redman of Athol, who flies the same route as Barbieri to get to the same district, flew home eight times with the average cost of the plane ticket at $140. And Republican Sen. Shawn Keough of Sandpoint, who lives in Idaho's most northern district just above Barbieri's home district, was reimbursed $827 for this year's session.
"My husband is retired and we're empty nesters, so we didn't go home this session," Keough said. "In the past, I've gone home more often to see my kids but we didn't this year."
This year's legislative session convened on Jan. 9 and ended March 29. The 80-day session took place during a non-election year, meaning lawmakers didn't have as much pressure to return home to meet with constituents. Last year's session, which was an election year, lasted 75 days.
Along with receiving travel reimbursements, state lawmakers earn a $17,358 annual salary and have a $2,250 expense account. Furthermore, legislators who live outside Ada County receive $129 a day during the session to help cover the cost of a residence while the Legislature is in session. This year, 66 lawmakers from outside Ada County received $10,320 each during the session.
Meanwhile, 39 lawmakers who live within 50 miles of the Capitol and do not maintain a second residence during the session, received $49 a day — or $3,920 each for 80 days.