Editor’s Note: This is an installment in our occasional series, It’s Your Money, that looks more closely at public expenses that taxpayers may not realize they’re being asked to pay.
Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie is requesting $132,000 in emergency appropriations from the Legislature.
Most of it will be used to cover vacation buyouts for staff members and the governor’s upcoming trip to Washington, D.C. for a climate change conference. But nearly half of it — $60,700 — would pay for Abercrombie’s annual membership fee to the National Governors Association.
The state House already approved the request by passing House Bill 2281 earlier this month. The Senate Ways and Means Committee passed the bill on Wednesday, but it still has to go through the full Senate.
The National Governors Association is an organization that helps governors from U.S. states and territories develop policies, collaborate on issues and share best practices. The annual fees per state range from $22,000 to $176,000, depending on factors such as the size of the state, said NGA spokeswoman Jodi Omear.
The state has paid $60,700 for Abercrombie’s NGA membership each year since 2011.
Justin Fujioka, Abercrombie’s spokesman, said the governor’s membership in the organization allows him to network with his peers and share best practices. Fujioka emphasized that the organization is the only non-partisan group that enjoys the broad participation of governors, and that it advocates to the federal government on behalf of states.
The NGA has two major meetings a year and Abercrombie tries to attend at least one, Fujioka said.
David Quam, deputy director of the National Governors Association, said that Hawaii has received enough in travel reimbursements and grants from the NGA to more than make up for the cost of the state’s annual dues.
Quam wouldn’t say exactly how much Hawaii has received in grants and reimbursements but said that over the last two years, “It absolutely looks like Hawaii comes out ahead.”
Quam said that that Abercrombie has been an active member of the organization since 2011 and is on the Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee. Quam described the organization as “a consulting firm for states” and he emphasized that it offers management training not just for governors but also for their staffs and Cabinet members.
Although all governors are technically considered members of the organization even if they don’t pay their dues, several Republican governors have publicly announced their decisions to leave the group, citing the high fees.
Cynthia Meyer, spokeswoman for Texas Gov. Rick Perry, said Tuesday that Perry hasn’t been a member of the organization since 2002.
“For Texas, the governor believes it’s not a good use of taxpayer dollars,” Meyer explained in an email.
Maine Gov. Paul LePage left the organization in 2012, according to the Bangor Daily News.
“It’s too expensive for what we get out of it, it’s 60 grand a year,” he told the paper. “I wasn’t getting anything out of it.”
Governors from Florida and Ohio also declined to pay the fee in 2012, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Jackie Schutz, spokeswoman for Florida Gov. Scott, confirmed Monday that Scott still isn’t paying dues to the organization.
CNN reported in 2011 that governors from South Carolina and Idaho similarly refused to pay the membership fee.