House votes unanimously to force governor to disclose travel expenses

By Jamie Hausman

JEFFERSON CITY – Without opposition from even Gov. Jay Nixon’s own party members, the House approved a measure Wednesday that would require the governor to post details of his travel, including costs and purposes on the Missouri Accountability Portal website.

The amendment was approved after administration documents released last week revealed the governor had billed other agencies $380,000 for his airplane travel expenses since he became governor.

The amendment, which was approved 155-0, was tacked onto a bill that would require public schools to report how school districts and counties are spending their budgets on the accountability website. The site is accessible to all taxpayers and gives them information about where tax money is spent.

The amendment’s sponsor is the chair of the House Budget Committee, Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City.

Silvey told his House colleagues it had taken months for him to get the information he had requested about the governor’s travel.

“I asked verbally over the interim through the Budget Transparency Committee, which I chaired, for this information and did not receive it,” Silvey said. “I asked formally in a written statement for this information and it took about a month.”

The information Silvey got late last week listed 260 flights by Nixon for 2009 and 2010. Except for his first seven flights in January 2009, all of the costs are shown as having been covered by a variety of different government agencies. Agencies were billed for flights even when there was no employee for the agency traveling with the governor.

Not a single Democrat rose to defend the governor’s travel practices during a brief House discussion on the disclosure amendment.

Democratic Floor Leader Mike Talboy, D-Jackson County, said more transparency in government is a good thing.

“As far as being able to see where money is coming and going, regardless of who’s doing it or what it is, it’s something that if you’re going to have an accountability portal you should include statewide travel budgets for all the statewide elected official,” Talboy said.

Talboy’s colleagues on opposite sides of the aisle settled onto the same page regarding government accountability.

“I’m very heartened by [the unanimous vote],” Silvey said. “It shows that good government trumped partisan politics.”

The governor’s office offered a brief comment on the House action..

“If it reaches the governor’s desk, it will receive a full and fair review,” spokesman Scott Holste said. “That’s really the extent of comments that we would have on this particular subject today.”

The bill, with Silvey’s amendment, faces one more House vote before going to the Senate.

The sponsor of the underlying accountability bill, Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, said he did not know that Silvey was going to file the amendment, but said it is a good idea.

“At least it will make [the governor] more accountable to the people with what he is spending,” Smith said. “$400,000 is truly a disservice when our state is facing tough budget times.”

Earlier this year, House Republican and Democratic leaders said they would add language to next year’s budget that would prohibit the governor from billing other agencies for his travel expenses.

The Missouri Accountability Portal website address is