There are a couple of stories in the news lately that have gotten me thinking about our politicians, and what we pay them to do their jobs. The first one has to do with the announcement of President Trump's latest donation of his salary, and the second comes from the annual report of our legislators reimbursements for expenses.
As a candidate, Donald Trump promised to donate his salary to charity, and it is one of the few promises he has kept. It is also true that he hasn't been completely honest when talking about it. For one thing, he claims that he is the first President since George Washington to give up his salary. The truth is that Herbert Hoover and John Kennedy also donated their salaries to charity. Kennedy also did that with his salary as a Congressman and Senator.
Like Trump, Hoover and Kennedy were wealthy, and didn't need the money. Unlike Trump, they didn't have a public ceremony each time they did it. They donated it quietly, without any fanfare.
Also unlike Trump, neither Hoover or Kennedy tried to portray the gifts, or their service as President as some sort of personal sacrifice that actually costs them money. Trump has never separated himself from his company, so he still benefits from its success. And during his presidency, the Trump Organization has been very successful.
Business at the Trump Hotel in Washington jumped after the 2016 election, and hasn't slowed down. While the President doesn't insist that people stay there, lobbyists and foreign dignitaries do so just out of common sense.
The Trump Organization has also profited greatly from the President's frequent trips to his resorts and clubs to relax and play golf. Even though the President owns these facilities, he doesn't prevent them from charging the Secret Service the full price for rooms. It even has to pay for cart rentals when agents protect him on the golf course. A partial accounting has revealed that the Secret Service has spent at least $450.000 at Trump properties.
When this was revealed in the press, Eric Trump tried to claim that the resorts gave the Secret Service a deep discount, but he ran into a little problem with that story. The Secret Service is a government agency. It has to go to Congress to get its money, and account for every dollar received and spent. Its budget is a public record.
Closer to home, Sunday's Democrat-Gazette ran its annual report of what our legislators get reimbursed for expenses. The upkeep on this bunch is getting pretty high, especially for the members who live far from Little Rock. In addition to a salary of more than $42,000, for what is considered a part time job, some of these guys run up expenses between $30 and $40,000 a year.
Most of the expenses are justified. Besides a regular session each year, they have to return to Little Rock throughout the year for various meetings. That said, some of these expenses are a little hard to justify.
For instance, legislators are paid 58 cents a mile for travel while other state employees only get 42 cents. One legislator took expenses to attend something called The American Legislative Exchange, while another went to The National Conference of State Legislatures. Paying expenses for doing the job is one thing, paying to attend conventions is another.
While legislators justify their expenses, and even claim that they still don't make enough to get by, there is another whole class of state employees who have never gotten reimbursed for out of pocket expenses--teachers. Every teacher spends hundreds of dollars out of their own pockets each year to get their classrooms ready for the year, and never get it back. Since our legislators believe it is so important for state employees to be reimbursed for out of pocket expenses, maybe one of them will introduce a bill that gives that right to teachers.