This week, hundreds of state lawmakers are enjoying the sights and sounds of Chicago at the National Conference of State Legislatures' annual gathering. Over four days, the state legislators from around the country will hear big-name speakers, attend gala, catered receptions and rub elbows with hundreds of lobbyists, union reps and other special interests. Their kids can enjoy an exciting youth program, enjoying special tours of the city's museums and storied sports' stadiums. The best part, though, is that the lawmakers will bill their home state taxpayers for the costs of their trip.
And the costs can add up. It costs around $600 alone for lawmakers to register for the conference. Including airfare and several nights of hotel rooms at around $200 a night, and taxpayers are on the hook a couple thousand dollars for each lawmaker attending. State taxpayers also pay for hundreds of state employees to attend the gathering. Its a lot of money in tight budget times.
But, the long-term costs for taxpayers may be even higher. Amid the receptions and social outings, there is a fair amount of work being done at the conference. There are speeches, panel discussions and working groups on every aspect of government. The problem is, though, almost all of these discussions are steered toward government doing more, rather than less. Ideas arising out of the conference are generally biased to expand the reach of government. In fact, many of these sessions are essentially how-to-guides for growing government.
Lawmakers will also meet in "committees" where, with the input of many outside interests they will decide "policies" which the organization will use to lobby Congress. Invariably this lobbying seeks to increase the flow of federal taxpayer money to state governments.
And, we pay for it. NCSL receives a significant percentage of its budget from "dues" paid by the individual states. In addition to this, the organization receives grants from the federal government, private foundations and "sponsorship" contributions from corporations and unions. (Lobbyists and union reps also pay $1,200 to attend the conference and enjoy access to the lawmakers.)
So, if you see one of your state lawmakers soon, ask them how they enjoyed Chicago. After all, you paid for it.