Put travel spending on Web, keeping taxpayers informed
Few people match the frugality of a South Alabama probate judge who traveled to Washington a few years ago on county business.
He drove himself to Birmingham and took an $89 Southwest Airlines flight, then rode the subway into the nation's capital and spent the night free in the apartment of an industrialist who owned a plant in his county. The county's total expense for this round trip to one of the nation's most expensive cities was about $300.
We needn't expect most public servants to live that Spartan a lifestyle, even when they're traveling on our dime, but they ought to remember that it is our dime and not be extravagant.
They also should be accountable, which is the point of a bill introduced by state Rep. Dick Brewbaker, R-Montgomery. It would require that legislators' state-paid expenses for outside expenses be posted on the Legislature's Web site.
Mr. Brewbaker observes that citizens suspect legislators of wasting money on travel. Most don't do that, he said, but "let's make it all public and we'll find out."
House Speaker Seth Hammett, D-Andalusia, said he has set guidelines for outside travel by House members and approves every trip. He doesn't think they are traveling frivolously and questions whether the Brewbaker bill is necessary. A process is under way to put many state records on the Internet, eventually including such travel, Mr. Hammett says.
We like Gov. Bob Riley's comment better. Mr. Riley, who posts his state airplane logs on his Web site, says government should be "totally open and transparent. I think Dick is absolutely right. Let Alabamians get on the Internet and see where every dime of money is being spent."
(While they're at it, they also ought to post every dime that lobbyists spend on state officials. But we'll save that issue for another day.)
Some legislators might be embarrassed to have their expenses posted. The good ones, like the probate judge we mentioned, would only benefit from the public knowing they had been thrifty.