Should lawmakers have clothes dry-cleaned on taxpayers' dime?

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Elected officials aren’t particularly popular these days as the nation and state suffer serious money problems. Talk of tax hikes and deep budget cuts are everywhere, and none of it makes taxpayers happy.

To be fair, many of the economic problems are beyond their control.

But sometimes elected officials seem to invite criticism. That’s what state lawmakers have done by preaching fiscal responsibility for government while using taxpayer money to cover expenses most of us would consider personal.

It is just not very smart.

The Associated Press in Olympia combed through thousands of expense reimbursements for state representatives and senators. What AP found is some legislators believe taxpayers should be paying their dry cleaning bills.

The AP analysis found 19 legislators being reimbursed for dry cleaning. (If you are wondering, lawmakers from this area — Sen. Mike Hewitt and Reps. Maureen Walsh and Terry Nealey — paid for their own laundry.)

AP found lawmakers were reimbursed for other things that seem to be a stretch for reimbursement such as frames and artwork.

While these might legally qualify as reimbursable expenses, that doesn’t mean legislators have to seek reimbursement. It can easily smack of hypocrisy when some of the legislators with clothes cleaned by taxpayers are demanding government slash expenses.

One of those who demands a smaller government, Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Olympia, has billed more than $500 in dry-cleaning fees to the state in the past two years.

“I don’t think that’s an unreasonable expense to be reimbursed for,” Alexander said.

We do. If dry cleaning is reasonable, then purchasing shirts, shoes, ties and suits would be OK. Clearly, they are not.

But he isn’t alone with having taxpayers foot dry cleaning bills. Two others were over $500 and four were over $400.

Legislators already receive $90 a day to cover expenses when they are away from home. Lawmakers are also paid an annual salary of $42,106. That’s not a particularly high salary for the importance of the work they do, but legislators knew that is what the job paid when they sought election.

Sure, lawmakers can seek reimbursement, but doing so sends the wrong message. Lawmakers —like our local legislators — who are thinking already realize that.

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