Under House Bill 1363 the Highway Patrol would be required to provide quarterly records to legislative staff disclosing the costs of protecting and transporting the governor and lieutenant governor. The measure also requires the state Department of Transportation to report state aircraft costs.
It seems logical to the Tribune Editorial Board to have those costs as part of the public record. While the Tribune has no reason to believe security and travel are being misused, it would be useful information for the public. Over a number of years it would be possible to compare costs from different administrations.
Some governors no doubt preferred to use a state plane more than others. Despite being centrally located in Bismarck, governors often have to travel a lot of miles for events or meetings. It can be valuable time away from other business.
When testimony was taken on the bill both the patrol and the DOT opposed the bill. Col. Brandon Solberg, head of the patrol, called the process of gathering the information "cumbersome." He also expressed fears about disclosing information about the governor’s security. An official from DOT argued the information about plane costs is already available.
Solberg suggested providing the information to legislators in closed-door sessions. Rep. Bill Devlin, R-Finley, a former newspaper publisher and a supporter of HB1363, didn’t like the idea.
"I think it's a taxpayer right to know what this is costing," he told the Forum News Service. "I think having it in a confidential executive session serves no purpose at all." The Tribune agrees.
Businesses have to comply with state and federal rules many may consider "cumbersome," but they follow them. State agencies should be able to adjust to rules.
There are many members of the public interested in what state officials spend and what it costs for security and travel. Giving that information in secret to legislators doesn’t allow citizens to make informed decisions. The state should be able to tell the public how much security and travel costs without putting the governor and lieutenant governor in danger.
A state audit last year reviewed possible "inappropriate" use of state aircraft, but Gov. Doug Burgum said it was proper use of taxpayer money. The audit concluded there were "no issues" to report involving the security provided by the Highway Patrol, but provided no details because of the confidentiality of executive security.
The state should be able to balance the executive branch’s security along with reporting the costs of security and travel. We should be able to have transparency in government without putting the governor and lieutenant governor in jeopardy.
The excuse of security shouldn’t be used to withhold the reporting of costs from the public.