Ever hear of Sondra Clark? Neither had we until The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson published its investigation Sunday on travel spending in state government.
The director of the Board of Barber Examiners, during the most recently completed fiscal year, spent more of the taxpayers’ money on travel than every statewide elected official other than Gov. Phil Bryant, and more than Speaker of the House Philip Gunn.
Last year, Clark spent almost $18,000 of the public’s money going to conferences and seminars in Louisville, Ky., San Antonio and Columbus, Ohio, while also taking in hair shows in Atlanta and Birmingham to root on those barbers from Mississippi who were competing.
Last year was not an exception. Clark, who runs a tiny state office of three full-time employees, has averaged spending about $18,000 every year for the past four years on travel. She’s been to Boston, San Diego, Myrtle Beach, S.C., Las Vegas, South Padre Island, Texas, St. Petersburg, Fla., and St. Paul, Minn.
Clark’s excessive travel budget is easy to pick on, but it’s only one of the more glaring examples The Clarion-Ledger turned up. There were also the four Republican House members who may have double-dipped by getting $2,300 in reimbursements for a junket last summer that supposedly had been paid for in full by lobbyists. Or all of those important conferences for members of the Real Estate Commission and the Board of Psychology that just happened to be in the pretty seaside city of Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Wasteful travel spending in state government has been a problem for a while. The numbers would suggest it’s only getting worse. At a time when budgets were being tightened for most everything else, travel expenses grew to $40 million this past year, up $3 million from the year before.
There’s nothing really set up to put the brakes on travel spending. It is largely unregulated and generally left up to the various agencies, boards and commissions to decide.
The Clarion-Ledger offered several suggestions about how to get the costs down. One of the best ideas is reducing the number of boards and commissions.
Mississippi has more than 200 of these appointed bodies, some of which could be consolidated, some of which could be shut down. As long as they exist, they feel they have to justify themselves — and not just with travel but with unnecessary staff and superfluous regulations.
We suppose you need someone in state government to license those who can give a shave and a haircut, but why should the regulators travel anywhere out of state? In a profession, as Clark brags, as old as the Bible, it can’t be that hard to stay on the cutting edge. A few magazine subscriptions and a few hours on the Internet should be adequate.
That’s just not as fun as hopping around the country when someone else is paying the bill.