One of the perks of being an elected official (or a staffer for an elected official) is taxpayer, or special interest, funded travel to exotic locations on fact-finding missions. While recent changes in the Congressional ethics rules have limited the amount of such travel, members of Congress and their staffs still fly around the world on trips paid for by private “educational foundations.”
Once, when I was working on Capitol Hill, I asked a friend with more Hill experience if he thought we would really be in session until Christmas. My friend laughed and said “No, if you want to know when we will adjourn, find out when leadership and leadership staffers are supposed to leave for their trips. We will adjourn two days before that.”
Privately-funded and taxpayer-funded trips are not just a problem at the federal level. State lawmakers also take these trips. For example, just a few months ago there was a meeting held in Prague. This meeting was so important that Pennsylvania State Senate President Joe Scarnati attended, even though it meant leaving the state in the midst of a budget crisis that resulted in the state receiving a credit downgrade.
Pennsylvania still has not resolved the crisis. One good thing that may come out of this is that revenue-hungry politicians may do the right thing (for the wrong reason) and legalize online gaming in the Keystone State.