Monday, February 22, 2010

Per Diems- Legislators Abuse The System And Flaunt It

If any Pennsylvania legislator wanted to peer into the future read the comments posted at this Times Tribune atricle concerning their use of per diem payments to fund second home purchases in Harrisburg. This issue portends to be a hot topic this election season.

Here is an article that appeared in the Tribune Democrat highlighting the fact that Senator John Wozniak received almost $38,000.00 in per diem payments from January, 2008 through October, 2009. He received that amount on top of his $78,314.00 salary. It is amazing that any legislator can receive that amount of money without a requirement to produce ONE receipt. As the article points out there are no checks and balances.

In this Opinion from The Mercury of Pottstown the editor makes a point that our legislators can collect the per diem for any "day" they are in Harrisburg on state business — even if that "day" is one minute within the city limits. And they can claim "reimbursement" even though they don't need to produce receipts. If they say they paid for breakfast, they get reimbursed for breakfast — even if some lobbyist actually paid for breakfast. They can attend lobbyist receptions at night and never spend a dime on dinner but get reimbursed.

It appears Harrisburg is a free for all money grab as far as our legislators are concerned. Legislators claim their practices are legal. However, what is the impact to the state?

If the legislators were required to rent a hotel room and purchase meals which is what a true per diem is meant to reimburse how many jobs would be saved? The front desk clerk, the cleaning lady, the linen service, the coffee service, the grounds maintenance, the building maintenance, the chef, the waiter or waitress, the bus boy, the food vendor personnel, the kitchen equipment personnel- all depend on the room bookings and restaurant operations.

Instead legislators are trying to tell us it is okay for them to receive an unaccountable per diem, purchase a second home with the money, rent it out to fellow legislators, sell the home and make a profit that only benefits one person. Talk about abuse of the system.

As far as what the $158 per diem rate can purchase read this editorial by Chris Kelly of the Times-Tribune from last year. At least some homeless and families who are struggling benefited unlike our carnivorous legislators who wine and dine on only the finest.

Ohh,,,lest we forget..the legislators received the per diem the whole time they didn't pass a budget..I mean didn't do their job. During the budget impasse lawmakers racked up $532,000.00 in per diem payments according to the Tribune just the months of July and August. The payments to legislators during the budget impasse "make me sick," said Judy Kandel, 67, a Canonsburg retiree.

"I think since they are getting their pay, they don't give a hoot. They're looking out for themselves, not the people," she said.

Brett Marcy is great on putting spin on this issue for Todd Eachus.

"I never take them," said Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield, who said she claims actual reimbursement for a $62 hotel room and mileage but no meals.

"I ran on a platform of accountability and being careful with tax dollars," Ward said. "I wanted to live up to those words. Don't let anyone kid you; you don't have to buy a meal in Harrisburg."

Brett Marcy, a spokesman for Eachus, defended the payments as a cost of getting the budget done.

"These have been difficult times for all Pennsylvanians, but Rep. Eachus and House Democrats refuse to give up until the commonwealth has a fiscally responsible budget that remembers those who need help the most," Marcy said. "We're happy to report that we're very close to finalizing that budget. The per diems were reimbursements for expenses incurred during the course of that work."

It never dawned on Mr. Marcy that if they didn't receive the reimbursements maybe that would have reached their epiphany on the budget sooner. BTW, Brett, the ones who needed it most were the homeless and struggling families, just in case you forgot them.

A similar practice is occuring out west in California so it isn't just our legislators who lost touch.

As Natahan Benefield suggests over at Commomwealth Foundation why doesn't the state build a dormitory for lawmakers?

No comments: