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Labrador West MHA Jim Baker.
 Photo: Peter Genge

PEEKING INSIDE MHAs NEW CONSTITUENCY ACCOUNT REPORTS
New on-line reports let constituents track the tax money
spent by the Member


Two years after the constituency account spending scandal broke, the Williams government has implemented one of the key promises made in an effort to rebuild voter confidence. A new web-based report allows constituents to keep a running eye on what, and how much, their MHAs are spending.

The Member Accountability and Disclosure Reports, available by clicking House of Assembly on the www.gov.nl.ca website, break down spending in categories, provide maximum expenditure information, and track what percentage of their allotted sums each MHA has already spent. So far, the only monthís spending available on online is for March 2008, but a fiscal year total is also included and remaining months will be filled in as information becomes available.

In Labrador West, PC MHA Jim Baker is well within his allotted limits. Out of a allowed $6,350.00 budget for Office Allowances, Baker has racked up just $705.99 in March, and only $1,156.80 for the year so far, just 18.2% of his limit. MHAs like Baker, who donít maintain constituency offices outside their homes, are typically in that range. MHAs such as Minister Clyde Jackman, who maintain office accommodation elsewhere, are deeper into the public purse at about 50% of their allocation. Bakerís expenses included a telephone message book, staples, and file folders.

The Operational Resources category includes Bakerís one large expense, a laptop computer, but, at $1,144.00 on that purchase, $1,814.68 in total for the year, Baker is at the bottom of the spending heap for that category as well. Tom Marshallís total over the same period was $8,704.61.

The amounts provided to each MHA for meals while traveling, travel expenses, and living allowances while the house is in session vary considerably based on distance from the capital city. Steve Kent, living in neighbouring Mount Pearl, has less than $3,000 allocated, while Jim Baker, in Labrador West, and the other Labrador MHAs, have $20,000 or more available to them. On a percentage of their available budget, however, itís clear Labrador Westís MHA isnít dining too high on the hog. Baker has used just 1.3% of his available funding. Steve Kent stands at 5.1%, NDP Leader Lorraine Michael at 12.1%, and Liberal Leader Yvonne Jones at 12.9%. Other Labrador MHAs are John Hickey at Patty Pottle in a tie with Baker at 1.3%.

It was the straight Constituency Account monies which triggered a multitude of reports from Auditor General John Noseworthy in 2006. Since then, those funds have come under strict usage and reporting procedures handed down in a 1300-page document by Chief Justice Derek Green. Each Member of the House of Assembly has $1,270 of funding earmarked Constituency Allowance for the fiscal year 2007-2008. In general, MHAs have not been using their constituency allowance amounts. Baker has used just $29.05 of his allowance.

Other MHAs of note would be Tom Rideout, $189.48; Clyde Jackman, 99.66; Steve Kent, 165.84; Patty Pottle, $0; John Hickey, $47.38; Lorraine Michael, 38.94; Danny Williams, $0; Tom Marshall, $0; Dave Denine, $243.02; Tom Osbourne, $0. One of those who isnít shy about using her constituency amount is leader of the provincial Liberal party, Yvonne Jones, who has spent 95.5% of her $1,270, for a total of 1,213.13.

The information provided in the recently released report relates to Membersí allocations and expenditures incurred during the period 9 October 2007 to 31 March 2008. Reports will be published on a semi-annual basis in the future; therefore, the next reports published will cover the period from 1 April 2008 to 30 September 2008.
While providing insight into how public monies are spent by individual MHAs, direct comparisons member-by-member wonít always be valid measurements. For example, while Labrador West MHA Jim Baker could be expected to use a high percentage of funding for travel to and from St. Johnís, the district has a small footprint, so an MHA like Yvonne Jones or Patty Pottle would see higher amounts necessary to get to different parts of their district because they must travel by ferry or air just to get from community to community.

As well, MHAs who hold other portfolios, such as Minister of a particular department, might be able to piggy-back some of their district costs with ministerial occasions. In some cases, this could see expenses put on other tabs, or, it could help decrease the overall costs by combining expenses.

Overall, however, the accounts allow constituents some insight into the cost of doing political business.

ē Ngaire Genge





 

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