Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Conference Tips

Yesterday's Inquirer had a front page story on state legislators' cumulative $130,000 bill to attend the National Conference of State Legislators. Some of the legislators mentioned in the story didn't bill the state for their travel, but some did. Topping the list was Marc Cohen who piggybacked the conference with another conference just before the NCSL conference (on labor) and another right after (for state government reporters). Cohen's airfare was $898.00 and his nightly hotel bill was $231.00. For legislators who did not want to bill for specific items the state provided a $204 per diem for food and lodging.

I think it is a good idea for our legislators to meet with their counterparts from other states and a $204 per diem sounds reasonable to me. The conference topic strikes home for me right now because for years I was a regular at my professional association's annual conference. While Rep. Cohen pointed out this his conference work ate into his weekends, the one I attended was always held over a weekend to avoid cutting into the work week. Just a different view, I guess. I've missed the conference for the past few years and probably a one or two more in the future due to family and financial concerns. However, my years of conference hopping did teach me a few cost-saving tips that I'm happy to pass on to our elected officials.

Find a buddy -- many people I know professionally have one or more conference buddies they share a hotel room with a split costs. It's a good way to catch up with what people in other states are doing. We also keep foodstuffs in the room to cut down on restaurant costs. Someone brings or picks up Ritz crackers and apples, someone else brings or picks up bagels or muffins. It's not as tasty as a pricey meal but if you eat in for breakfast you can afford to go out for a nice lunch or dinner with your buds. I knew one guy who would pack his favorite breakfast cereal by putting it in a baggie and tucking it into a shoe in his suitcase so it wouldn't get crushed.

Take the red eye -- for long flights try flying at night. You can usually get a little sleep and you don't waste valuable daylight hours traveling. An $898 airline ticket sounds a little expensive to me. Maybe the state should investgate priceline?

NCSL is a good organization and I like the idea of our folks going but I wish they would cut a few corners.

As an aside, John Micek has an interesting anecdote about running into a state legislator out in Seattle.

Source: Cattabiani, Mario E. and Angela Couloumbis, "trip west cost Pa. taxpayers $130,000," Philadelphia Inquirer February 6, 2006, p. A1


albert said...

I thought the article painted Rep. Mark Cohen in a bad light, well, worse light than all the rest, by how they highlight him at the start. But he's the one who spread out the money into three different conferences which was, in his words and in my opinion, the most cost-effective.

But nevertheless, I think our government should be trying to save some dough on things like airfare, $900 for a roundtrip flight to Seattle does sound like a little much. Granted, schedule constraints in PA and WA probably were a factor, but still.

AboveAvgJane said...

I can understand a legislator wanting to attend a conference on labor -- that relates to his job, but I"m not sure why he needed, on the state dime, to go to a conference for state government reporters. If he were invited to speak on something that's one thing, but he's just attending. Making derogatory remarks to one of the leading state government reporters in his state may not be the smartest thing to do while at the conference. Is he on a committee that relates to legislative / press relations? A lot of conferences tape sessions and make them available to people who missed the conference (for a price, of course). If he were interested in a specific topic, could he have bought the tape of that session?

The remark about it cutting into two weekends got me. He has to spend two weekends in Seattle? Oh, the hardship. For my professional conferences, you are given a set amount from the employer. If you go over, you pay out of pocket. Your involvement and attendance are predicated on 1) how much travel money your employer has and is willing to give you, and 2) how much time and money you are willing to spend out of pocket. For someone to complain about spending a weekend away when they arent' required to go and all costs are picked up seems a bit much to me.

Anonymous said...

Jane - I wish the article delved into who actually attended the seminars in the conference. It's one thing to go, and another to "attend." I know very well that Rep. Cohen is one of the hardest workers (and brightest) members in the House and it is a shame that he was depicted as the scrooge in this article. But, yeah, the weekend comment didn't help him any...keep up the great blog!

- BipartisanBetty

AboveAvgJane said...


How wonderful to hear from you! I've been thinking about you and hoping everything was okay. I know a lot of people do think well of Rep. Cohen. Personally I was disappointed in his position on the payraise. While one article on the conference might include quotes that can be taken out of context, making snarky comments to John Micek (see link in post) may not have been the smartest thing to do.

It is to his credit that he has supporters like you. Since you have more direct knowledge of his work habits than I do I'll take you work for it that he is hard working. Other bloggers have written well of him and that is also to his credit. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy.