Mississippi’s top political leaders assured taxpayers Monday they won’t foot the bill for their upcoming trips to national political conventions.

State House Majority Leader Tyrone Ellis said he’ll reimburse the state for his trip next week to the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Ellis, D-Starkville, issued his statement after a news release from Mississippi Republicans blasted the Democrat-controlled House for approving the expense.

Contacted later, spokesmen for Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant and Gov. Haley Barbour said they are not using taxpayer money to attend the National Republican Convention in St. Paul, Minn. It begins Sept. 1.

House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, said he’s not going to the Democrats’ convention, which begins Monday.

McCoy said he approved of the trip and offered the same opportunity to House Minority Leader Mark Baker, R-Brandon. The Republicans’ news release said Baker turned down the offer.

McCoy and Ellis said they considered the trip a way to bend the ear of the nation’s most influential leaders and curry favor for Mississippi.

“When I became Majority Leader, I made a pledge that I will go anywhere I am called on to represent our state, to lobby for our state, and to make certain that we continue to have friends in high places so that Mississippi is not left out of the discussions in Washington!” Ellis’ statement said.

“I do understand that some feel it is wrong for the state to pay for this trip, therefore I will reimburse to the state the monies it granted to me and will pick up the cost of the trip on my own,” he said.

Contacted later, Ellis said he didn’t know how much the trip would have cost taxpayers but insisted he had not been given a blank check by the House Management Committee leadership.

Brad White, incoming state Republican Party chairman, said in a news release, “The Mississippi House of Representatives is not a private travel agency. Tyrone Ellis is welcome to go party with (Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama) if he wants, but he should do it on his own dime.”

Clarion Ledger