I’ve been on a print-magazine deadline all day today, so I apologize for coming to this late, but I read with interest the Washington Post story on Sarah Palin’s per diem billings. I think this is a perfectly reasonable sort of thing for reporters to look into — and I assume that the Post and other papers are also examining issues like how much Joseph Biden charges the taxpayers for his daily Amtrak trips between Washington and Delaware.
Anyway, on the Palin story, I felt like I couldn’t get a bottom line from the Post account. Did Gov. Palin spend more money on travel than her predecessors? Less? Too much? What can her expenditures be compared to?
Late this afternoon, I talked to Sharon Leighow, who is the governor’s spokeswoman in Alaska. It turns out that in September 2007, when Palin had been in office nine months, her staff did an analysis of her travel spending versus that of her predecessors, Republican Frank Murkowski and Democrat Tony Knowles. (Knowles is quoted in the Post story indirectly suggesting that Palin is spending too much.)
The analysis prepared by Palin’s office added up travel costs for time in Anchorage, other parts of Alaska, out of state, and public safety costs associated with gubernatorial travels — in other words, most of the cost of such travels. Palin’s office found that she had spent $122,970 in her first nine months in office. I don’t have a figure for her entire first year, but if she spent in the final quarter at the rate she spent in the first three, that would be about $164,000 for the year. These are the figures for the other governors:
Murkowski 2006 $525,392
Murkowski 2005 255,823
Murkowski 2004 217,023
Murkowski 2003 275,546
Knowles 2002 278,026
Knowles 2001 210,968
Knowles 2000 89,578
Knowles 1999 73,700
The bottom line? I can’t speak to the issue of per diem expenses, although the Post’s front-page treatment seemed to suggest that while no rules were broken, Palin had abused the process. But when I look at her office’s overall travel figures, at least for the first part of her term, it appears that she spent less than most years under her predecessors, Republican and Democrat.