Thursday, March 13, 2014

Senate Republican Caucus Seeks to Address Major Loophole within State Employee Travel Expense Regs

Today I distributed the following press release regarding a bill that the Senate Republican Caucus is filing to close a loophole within the state employee travel expense regulations:

Senate Republican Caucus Seeks to Address Major Loophole within State Employee Travel Expense Regs
Every Government Entity Should be Held to the Same, High Standards

Boston- Confronting a situation that has recently been highlighted by travel and other expenses incurred by commissioners and employees at the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester), Assistant Minority Leader Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth), Senate Minority Whip Donald Humanson (R-Westfield), and Senator Richard Ross (R-Wrentham), the Ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Ways and Means are filing legislation this week that would further regulate expenditures made by state employees.

Current law mandates all governing bodies that receive state appropriations to follow strict travel expense guidelines.  However, because the Massachusetts Gaming Commission does not receive such appropriations, the commission has interpreted that the regulations do not apply.  The bill authored by the Senate Republican Caucus, which is also available for co-sponsorship by the members of the legislature, eliminates the wording of “state appropriations” to make the regulation all-inclusive.

“Our state’s expense rules need to be clear, understandable, and even-handed,” said Senator Bruce Tarr.  “These commonsense reforms achieve those goals and go a long way toward preventing abuses and extreme expenses.”

With unclear travel spending regulations, which were originally codified in 2004, outrageous expenditures may occur if left unchecked.  Recently, the Boston Business Journal found employees of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to be lavishly spending during business trips nationally and internationally.  Their review of over 700 credit card charges and expense reimbursements from May 2012 to the end of 2013 found employees of the commission spent nearly $85,000 on airfare, $61,000 on hotel accommodations, and $37,000 on meals.

Compelled to address a number of problems with the current law, the bill seeks to resolve the ambiguity of the state employee travel reimbursement regulations by:

           clarifying the reimbursement rules regarding lodging, entertainment, airfare, and other travel expenses;

           applying the state reimbursement rules to every state employee; and

           removing the current distinction between managers and employees.

“These loopholes, if left unchanged, would at the very least create a cloud of impropriety, and at the very worst, allow widespread abuse,” said Senator Bruce Tarr.  “With state government continuing to evolve, this measure aims to instill confidence by removing speculation to ensure state employees are spending precious dollars appropriately.”