Legislative Frolics

August 12, 1991

One outraged taxpayers' group calls it "the 'Fantasia' trip." We call it "the Great Escape."

At a time when state budgets are in a sling, legislators from across the country are gathering at Disney World in Orlando, Fla., to hear Vice President Quayle speak at Epcot Center and to attend workshops on ethics and campaign finance reform. There will also be time for fun and games. Pennsylvania legislators ended their budget deadlock in time to attend, triggering a march on the Capitol in Harrisburg by disgusted state workers chanting, "M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E."

Maryland constituents should be equally disturbed. Despite severe budget problems and a $1 billion deficit staring them in the face, the legislature cut only $50,000 from its own travel budget of $150,000. With state workers being forced to put in longer hours, layoffs and program cuts on the horizon, with lawmakers apparently put their travel plans in the "untouchable" spending category. Some 30 of them flew off to New Orleans to frolic with southern legislators last month. Now another 30 are merrily on their way to Orlando and the Magic Kingdom.

Del. Nancy Kopp of Montgomery County is the only one scheduled to attend the six-day conference who says she is paying her own way. Then again why should legislators dig into their own pockets when they can fly to the conference and spend $128-a-day for meals and accommodations at state taxpayers' expense?

That's a great example to set. How will these traveling statesmen explain their wasteful extravagances at a time when every tax dollar saved might avert another layoff? How will they explain, in the midst of a bone-crunching recession, their New Orleans revelry or their Disney World dalliance? Once they return home, they could get an earful from angry constituents. "Fantasia" in Florida will turn into a "Nightmare on Elm Street."

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